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Illustrations by 


F 0 

R B 

E G 1 N N 1 



illustrations by JOE LEE 


,</! imprint of Sict’rfvrth Press 
H< in over. Nen 1 Hit nips hi n ■ 

For Beginners LLC 
62 East Starrs Plain Road 
Danbury, CT 06810 USA 
www. forbeginners books .com 

Text: © 2009 David Cogswell 
Illustrations: © 2009 Joe Lee 
Cover Art: © 2009 Joe Lee 

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of the publisher. 

A For Beginners® Documentary Comic Book 
Copyright © 2009 

Cataloging-in~Publication information is available from the Library of Congress. 
ISBN # 978-1-934389-40-9 Trade 
Manufactured in the United States of America 

For Beginners© and Beginners Documentary Comic Books® are published 
by For Beginners LLC. 

First Edition 

10 987654321 

Table of Contents 

Introduction: Zinn's World 1 

Rebel with a Cause 1 

Marx and Zinn 3 

Howard Zinn: A Life in History 7 

Growing Up Working Class 8 

A Child's Discovery of the Written Word 10 

Radicalization 13 

Love and War 16 

Doubts About War 19 

Bombing Missions 20 

Hiroshima and Questions 22 

Final Blows of War 23 

Back to School 27 

The Graduate 28 

A Teaching Job 30 

Out of the Blue 31 

North to South 33 

Challenging the System 34 

Expelled 42 

Howard Zinn and Alice Walker 44 

SNCC 45 

Zinn and Martin Luther King, Jr 47 

Take a Look around to Selma, Alabama 49 

The Birth of a Writing Career 56 

Greenwood, Mississippi 56 

On to Boston 59 

War and Resistance 60 

Trip to Vietnam 67 

The Fall of Johnson, the Rise of Nixon 69 

The Pentagon Papers 70 

End of the Vietnam War 73 

A People's History 73 

Beyond the University 74 

Zinn in the Movies 75 

Zinn on Iraq 75 

Calling for Truth About 9/1 1 76 

Zinn on Bush 78 

The Zinn Vision 78 

Zinn's Hope for America's Future 79 

Zinn on Obama, FDR, and Lincoln 80 

Lone Traveler 81 

Failure to Quit 82 

Zinn: The Work 85 

A People's History of the United States 85 

Columbus's Discovery of the New World 88 

Establishing an Alternative View 92 

Slavery and Racism 93 

Revolutionary Fervor in America 95 

Cheating the Indians 98 

Manifest Destiny 101 

The Battle Over Slavery 104 

Class Struggle in the Nineteenth Century 106 

Robber Barons and the Rise of Corporate America ..110 

The Rise of American Empire 1 1 5 

Enter Socialism 118 

The Warfare State 121 

Hard Times USA 124 

World War II: The Clash of Empires 1 27 

The Black Revolution 129 

The Failed Attack on Vietnam 136 

Other Struggles 140 

The Hidden Revolution 145 

Other Works 147 

The linn Reader: Writings on Disobedience and 
Democracy 147 

You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal 
History of Our Times 148 

Conscience of the Jazz Age: 

LaGuardia in Congress 148 

The Southern Mystique 149 

SNCC: The New Abolitionists 152 

New Deal Thought 154 

Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal 156 

Artists in Times of War 158 

Marx in Soho: A Play on History 158 

Bibliography: Zinn's Writings 159 

About the Author and Illustrator 163 

Introduction: Zinn's World 

Rebel with a Cause 

/ start from the supposition 
that the world is topsy-turvy, 
that things are all wrong , 
that the wrong people are in 
jail and the wrong people are 
out of jail, that the wrong peo- 
ple are in power and the wrong 
people are out of power, that the 
wealth is distributed in this country 
and the world in such a way as not 
simply to require small reform 
but to require a drastic re- 
allocation of wealth . 

/ start from the sup- 
position that we 
don't have to say too 
much about this be- 
cause all we have to do 
is think about the state 
of the world today and re- 
alize that things are all 
upside down . Daniel Berri- 
gan is in jail — A Catholic 
priest, a poet who opposes 
the war — and J. Edgar Hoover i 
free, you see. David Dellinger ; who 
has opposed war ever since he was this 
high and who has used all of his energy 
and passion against it, is in danger of going 
to jail. The men who are responsible for the 
My Lai massacre are not on trial; they are in 
Washington serving various functions, primary 
and subordinate, that have to do with the unleash- 
ing of massacres, which surprise them when they 
occur : At Kent State University four students were 
killed by the National Guard and students were in- 
dicted . In every city in this country , when demonstra- 
tions take place, the protesters, whether they have 
demonstrated or not, whatever they have done, are 
assaulted and clubbed by police, and then they are 
arrested for assaulting a police officer. 

— Howard Zinn, 
“The Problem is Civil Obedience,” 1970 


Zinn recognized that any history is selective. The events of the 
world in any given day could fill many books. Every historian 
must choose his province that he wishes to explore. Many his- 
tories focus on wars and political struggles, some on culture and 
art. Zinn focuses on the lives and struggles of working people in 
a developing capitalist society, concentrating on the majority of 

the population instead of on the thin upper crust 
of the elites who enjoy the attention of most 
common historical accounts. 

“There was never, for me as a teacher and 
writer, an obsession with ‘objectivity,’ which 
I considered neither possible nor desirable,” 
wrote Zinn in the introduction to The Zinn 
Header. “1 understood early that what is pre- 
sented as ‘history’ or as ‘news’ is inevitably a se- 
lection out of an infinite amount of information, 
and that what is selected depends on what the 
selector thinks is important.” 

Marx and Zinn , 


Some detractors have called Zinn a Marx- i 
ist. “A guide to the political left” posted at 
Discover the Networks (, calls A People’s History 
of the United States “a Marxist tract 
which describes America as a predatory 
and repressive capitalist state — sexist, ^ 
racist, imperialist — that is run by a 
corporate ruling class for the bene- yufiK 
fit of the rich.” The site finds it ap- y >■*! 
palling that the book is “one of (/ •. 
the best-selling history 
books of all time. Despite ? srfzr' 

its lack of footnotes and .~T“> 

other scholarly apparatus, 
it is one of most influential /W/// 
texts in college classrooms r ///', \ 

L i 


today — not only in history classes, but also in such fields as eco- 
nomics, political science, literature, and women’s studies.” 

Daniel J. Flynn, the executive director of Accuracy in Academia 
and author of Why the Left Hates America: Exposing the Lies 
That Have Obscured Our Nation s Greatness, wrote on the 
History News Network ( that 
Zinn is an “unreconstructed, anti-American Marxist.” Flynn in- 
cluded Zinn on a list of five thousand “Marxists” he said were 
teaching in American universities. 

Upon learning he 
claim, noting that 

was included on this list, Zinn rejected Flynn s 
even Marx himself claimed to not be a Marxist. 
In Zinn’s article “Je ne suis pas Marxiste,” he 
writes that Marx was invited to speak at the 
Karl Marx Club in London, but he declined, 
saying, “Thanks for inviting me to speak at 
your Karl Marx Club, but I can’t. I’m not a 

Zinn called the incident “a high point” in 
Marx’s life and a good starting point from 
which to consider Marx’s ideas without be- 
coming a Pieper [the 
founder of the Karl Marx 
Club] or a Stalin or a Kim 
II Sung or any born-again 
Marxist who argues that 
every word in Volumes 
One, Two, and Three, and 
especially Grundrisse, is 
unquestionably true.” 


Zinn continued, “For a long time I considered that there were im- 
portant and useful ideas in Marxist philosophy and political econ- 
omy.” But Marx was also “often wrong, often dogmatic.” He was 
“sometimes too accepting of imperial domination as ‘progres- 
sive, ’ a way of bringing capitalism faster to the third world, and 
therefore hastening, he thought, the road to socialism.” On the 
other hand, Marx “had something to say not only as a critic of 
capitalism but as a warning to revolutionaries, who had better 
revolutionize themselves if they intended to do that to society.” 

Though Zinn does not consider himself a devotee of Marxist ide- 
ology, he clearly owes a debt to Marx in terms of his view of his- 
tory and his analysis of the forces involved in human progress. 
Marx began his book, The Communist Manifesto, by saying: “The 
history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class strug- 
gles.” Marx analyzed history in terms of the evolution of societies, 
an idea adapted from Hegel that was relatively new in Marx’s time. 
And Marx viewed that progression through the lens of economics 
and economically defined classes. 

Practically every modem histo 
rian or political scientist owes c$£i 

a debt to Marx. Zinn particu- 
larly makes use of Marx’s lens 
on history. So while he is not a 
Marxist, it is fair to say that Zinn s 
view is Marxian, to some extent. 



rs TMese 

Flynn attributed the “massive sales 
figures” of A Peoples History of the 
United States to plugs from “fawning 
celebrities,” such as Pearl Jam’s Eddie 
Vedder, the band Rage Against the 
Machine, and actor Matt Damon, 
whose hero in the film Good 
Will Hunting tells his psychia- 
trist that A Peoples History of 
the United States will “knock 
you on your ass.” 


Flynn castigates Eric Foner, the New York Times book reviewer, 
for saying the book should be “required reading” for students. 
Noting that rated the book among the top sellers 
at major universities, Flynn wondered if the remarkable popu- 
larity of the book on college campuses was a result of “coercion” 
from teachers assigning the book to students. 

Flynn calls Zinn’s work “biased journalism,” and to his way of 
thinking, there could be no better attack on Zinns writing than 
to mark it with the dishonorable stain of bias. Flynn concludes, 
“This slanderous tome and its popular and academic success are 
monuments to human credulity and delusion, and to the dis- 
graceful condition of American letters.” 


An interviewer from the Boston Globe asked Zinn if his writ- 
ing was “fiercely partisan.” Zinn explained, “Long before I de- 
cided to write A People’s History, my partisanship was shaped 
by my upbringing in a working-class immigrant family, by my 
three years as a shipyard worker, by my experience as a bom- 
bardier in World War II, and by the civil rights movement 
a. : , v in the South and the movement against the war in 

^ Vietnam. Educators and politicians may say 

that students ought to learn pure facts, in- 
nocent of interpretation, but there’s no 
such thing! So I’ve chosen to emphasize 
voices of resistance — to class oppres- 
f ffjr/ l sion, racial injustice, sexual inequality, 

nationalist arrogance — left out of the or- 

Zinn s view of history is passionate, per- 
Jh sonally involved. It is a people’s history, 

Ak told by a participant, not a cold dis- 
H|| 4°^ passionate outside observer. Reading 

Bll'' Yor A People’s History of the United 

Hi 1 /tPMm m States is a transformative experi- 

i Jlj\ ence, changing the way we under- 

l 11 stand and appreciate past events 




His father had come to America from Lemberg, a city in Eastern 
Europe that had at different times been part of the Austro-Hun- 
garian empire, Poland, and the Soviet Union. Today it’s known as 
the city of Lvov in the Ukraine. Howard’s mother was from the Ra- 
binowitz family of Irkutsk, Siberia, next to Lake Baikal near Mon- 
golia. When people have commented on his Asiatic features, he 
has suggested, half seriously, that it may be because his ancestry 
traces back deep into Asia near Mongolia. Howards parents were 
Jewish, he says, but neither of them was particularly religious. 

Eddie Zinn worked various factory and labor jobs, as a window 
cleaner, pushcart peddler, necktie salesman, and WPA (Works 
Progress Administration) worker. He eventually settled into the 
dull drudgery of waiting tables at restaurants and weddings, and 
became a member of the waiters union. Young Howard some- 
times worked with his father at New Year’s Eve parties. 

He loathed it, especially the demeaning attitude of the 
bosses and customers toward the waiters. 

Zinn’s father never escaped poverty. “All his life he 
worked very hard for very little,” Zinn wrote 
in his autobiography. “I’ve always re- 
sented the smug statements of politi- 
cians, media commentators, 
and corporate executives 
who talked of how, in 
America, if you worked 
hard you would become 
rich.” The implication that if 
you were poor it was because you 
hadn’t worked hard enough was a lie, 
to Howard. He had seen his father and many 
others who worked harder than big time busi- 
nessmen or politicians, but Eddie Zinn and 
others among his class never escaped 
poverty despite their diligence. 


A Child's Discovery of the Written Word 

Zinn’s inherent affinity for the written word expressed itself early, 
in spite of the odds against it. The Zinn family was deeply en- 
gaged in an intense struggle for survival, always moving from 
place to place, and there were no books in the Zinn home. But 
by the time Howard was eight, he had become a voracious 
reader, reading whatever he could get his hands on. The first 
book he owned was a copy of Tarzart and the Jewels of Opar y 
which he found on the street, minus some pages. 

As poor as they were, his parents recognized his passion for 
books and tried to provide him with reading material whenever 
possible. With coupons saved from the New York Post every 
week Howard was able to buy one book a week for a few cents 
until he had acquired the entire collection of Charles Dick- 

ens* ^writings. ^ Reading David 

areatly influenced his 

• victims of the system were 


often children, the stories undercut the standard argument that 
people who were poor were to blame for their condition. 

In 2001 Zinn told Harry Kreisler of the Institute of International 
Studies, “From Dickens what I got was this ferocious acknowl- 
edgement of the modem industrial system and what it does to peo- 
ple, and how poor people live and the way they are victimized, and 
the way the courts function. The way justice works against the 
poor. Yes, it was Dickens’s class consciousness that reinforced my 
own. It was a kind of justification for the beliefs I was already de- 
veloping. Yes; it told me, what reading very often does for you, 
tells you are not alone in these secret thoughts you have.” 

Because his family moved so much, he changed schools often 
and got used to being the new kid in class. But in spite of the 
constant moving, he was such a good student that he was al- 
lowed to skip a grade when he transferred to Thomas Jefferson 
High School in Brooklyn, where he joined a writers program and 
a writers club. 

His parents scraped together the money to buy him a typewriter 
and he taught himself how to type. He soon became as dedi- 
cated to writing as he was to reading. Writing became a constant 

eventually became a distraction from studies and Howard be- 
came alienated from school. He started skipping classes, some- 
times playing hooky for weeks at a time and devising schemes to 

elude the truant 

In 2008 Zinn reflected on his 
development as a writer: 

/ don't know if I considered myself a 
* writer ’ consciously , but I did start to 
write almost as soon as I began to read, 
when I kept a notebook with reviews of 
the books I read . I was reading Upton 
Sinclair and John Steinbeck and 
Richard Wright 
and Charles * 

Dickens. I u;as * 
thirteen when my % 
parents bought me 
a used Underwood #5 
typewriter , which came with a booklet with instructions — showing 
the keyboard , etc . / just wrote reviews . But I saw myself as a jour- 
nalist , and in the Air Force, coming back from overseas, stationed at 
Barksdale Field in Shreveport, Louisiana, I edited a newspaper called 
the Barksdale Bark for the airfield, and wrote some bold editorials 
criticizing the army for keeping soldiers in the service after the war 
was over. Of course as a student at NYU and a graduate student at 
Columbia, I was writing papers and a masters essay and a doctoral 


dissertation, and in all of those instances writing in a popular sty/e, 
avoiding scholarly jargon . It was on/y when I went south and became 
involved in SNCC [Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committeejand 
the Southern movement that I started writing about what J saw in the 
South , as a participant in the movement , writing about the demon- 
strations in Albany, Georgia ; Selma , Alabama ; various towns in Mis- 
sissippi. As for fiction, I spent a summer around 1959 writing a novel 
based on the Colorado mine strike of 1912-14 and the Ludlow Mas- 
sacre, but it was rejected by several publishers and l dropped it. I 
only began writing plays — though l had long wanted to, my whole 
family being involved in the theater at one time or another— when 
the Vietnam War was over and I could stop speaking and writing 
about the war, with time now to work on a play. At this point 1 have 
no desire to write any more books. After writing a 700 page history 
book that has sold almost two million copies, and a number of other 
books , / feel I have said pretty much what 1 have wanted to say. 
though I still write short pieces , columns for The Progressive , articles 
for The Nation, op-ed pieces for the Boston Globe and other news- 
papers , If I get some time , I want to write another play. I'm not think- 
ing of anything autobiographical. [Interview with the author] 


Though his working class point of view was a natural result of 
growing up poor, Zinn pinpoints one particular moment that 
galvanized him politically and turned him into a radical. It was 
about 1940, at the beginning of World War II. Zinn was sev- 
enteen years old. He had become acquainted with some young 
people who were members of the Communist Party. Many so 
cially conscious Americans at that time still thought Commu- 
nism might be a positive movement that would undo some of 
the social injustices in the world. 

In the early twentieth century, for example, the Communist Party 
was the only political party that supported voting rights for 
blacks in America. Communism had emerged as a more humane 
alternative to the predatory form of capitalism that had led to 
the Great Depression, in which millions were left poor and home- 
less in America. Americans who called themselves Communists 
in those days held to a more idealistic view of Communism than 
was actually being practiced by Stalin in Russia. 


The young Communists Zinn met were intelligent and well-in- 
formed. Their arguments were persuasive. Though Zinn did not 
become a convert to their cause, he did accept an invitation to par- 
ticipate in a demonstration in Times Square in support for peace, 
justice, and similar causes. According to Zinn, the demonstration 
was proceeding in an orderly and nonviolent way, when suddenly 
he heard sirens and screaming. Hundreds of policemen charged 
into the crowd, some on horses and some on foot, swinging clubs 
into people s heads. One police officer’s swinging club caught Zinn 
on the skull and he was knocked unconscious. When he came to, 
with an aching lump on his head, the world looked different. 

Zinn was profoundly shocked that such a thing could happen in 
America. Wasn’t America a democracy where people had the right 
to speak, write, assemble, and demonstrate to express their griev- 
ances, as guaranteed by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights? 
In one swift blow, his faith in democracy, equality, and freedom of 


the individual in America were shattered. Suddenly he saw that 
the Communists were right. The police weren’t impartial peace- 
keepers, enforcing the law and the Constitution equally and fairly 
for all people. They were servants of the rich and powerful. Free 
speech was a fine thing in the high-flown words of the Constitu- 
tion. But if you offended the established powers by saying the 
wrong things, you might well end up on the wrong side of a club 
or a gun, or under the galloping hooves of a horse. 

That crash on the skull changed Zinn’s perspective on the world. 
Up until then, he had considered himself a liberal who believed 
in American democracy and its ability to correct itself as it pro- 
gressed along the twists and turns of history. But no more. From 
then on, he was a radical. Now he felt strongly that something 
was terribly wrong with the system, and that the illness was 
deeper than he had previously believed. It would not be cured by 
merely electing a new president or passing some new legislation. 
Fixing the problem would require tearing down the old order to 
its foundation, and rebuilding a society based on equality, peace, 
and cooperation. 


Love and War 

After Zinn graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School he en- 
rolled in Brooklyn College. Attendance was free, but Howard’s 
family’s economic problems were so severe that he still couldn’t 
afford to go to school. There was no time for education; he 
needed to produce an income. So at age eighteen, he dropped 
out of college and went to work in a shipyard. For three years he 
worked on the docks, building battleships for the war and help- 
ing to land ships. Working in freezing cold and stifling heat, Zinn 
felt the hardships of his labor: His ears were pummeled by deaf- 
ening noises while his lungs and sinuses were invaded by poi- 
sonous fumes. 

But harsh as conditions were, Howard’s time in the shipyard 
brought him to his most sublime, transcendent experience, his 
meeting with the love of his life, Roslyn Schechter in 1942. It 
started, however, on a note of betrayal. 


A basketball buddy of Howard’s 
asked him to deliver his army in- 
signia to a girl he had a crush on 
but was too shy to approach him- 
self. Howard tracked Roslyn down 
at her parents’ apartment, and 
when he encountered her, he was 
smitten. Roslyn had beautiful, long, 
chestnut blonde hair and the face 
of a Russian beauty in Howard’s es- 
timation. He was delighted when 
she suggested they take a walk 
around the block. 

Roz and Howard found an instant 
affinity. Roslyn shared Howard’s 
passion for reading. In fact, his 
Russian beauty was deeply ab- 
sorbed in the works of Dostoevsky 
and Tolstoy. He was immersed in the works of Marx and Engels 
and the fiction of Upton Sinclair. They had similar attitudes and 
feelings about the most urgent issues and controversies of the 
time, such as socialism, fascism, and World War 11. 

Meeting Roslyn galvanized him, awakened new horizons and as- 
pirations. After living his life in a grim working class netherworld, 
and running into a dead end after high school, Howard felt the 
intense desire to shake things up. He and Roz were both pas- 
sionately anti-fascist and saw World War II as a battle against 
tyranny, racial discrimination, militarism, fanatic nationalism, 
and expansionism. He wanted to be a part of the struggle, so he 
volunteered for the Army Air Corps. 

Without even telling his parents, he walked into the induction 
center and volunteered. He was subjected to a battery of physi- 
cal and mental tests, and then was told he had been rejected. But 
the fiery young Howard was not to be deterred. His desire to fight 
fascism was so fervent, he asked to see the examining officer 
again, and pleaded to be allowed to join the fight. The officer was 
so impressed with Zinn’s zeal that he relented and let him join. 


His induction ushered in a period of intense movement around 
the United States in preparation for war. It began with four 
months of basic training as an infantryman at Jefferson Bar- 
racks, Missouri, where he was indoctrinated in the fundamental 
skills and attitudes of soldiering. He was then transferred to 
Burlington, Vermont, where he learned how to fly a Piper Cub 
airplane. From there, he was whisked away to Nashville, Ten- 
nessee, to take exams to determine whether he would be better 
suited to serve as a pilot, a navigator, or a bombardier. When it 
was decided that he would be a bombardier, he was sent on to 
Santa Ana, California, for preflight training, to Las Vegas for six 
weeks at gunnery school, and finally to Deming, New Mexico, to 
learn how to use the Norden bombsight. He had a good eye and 
was promoted to the rank of second lieutenant. By then he had 
earned his first furlough, eleven days at home before shipping off 
to Europe to begin bombing missions. 

While he was in basic training, he and Roz got into an intense 
correspondence, developing an intimate relationship through let- 
ters. His passion for writing merged with his new love for Roslyn. 

Howard poured 
out his thoughts, 
feelings, and experiences 
to her day by day for six- 
teen months. When he took 
his first furlough he went 
straight to see her. Four days 
later, on October 30, 1944, they 
were married in a ceremony attended only by par- 
ents and siblings. They spent a week-long honey- 
moon in a cheap Manhattan hotel, and then 
Howard had to take off again, this time for 


Rapid City, South Dakota, where he was scheduled to meet his 
crew. Roslyn was allowed to join him there before he shipped off. 

By then the Allied invasion of Europe was well underway. 
Howard was anxious to join the fight, and Roz shared his zeal. 
He changed places with other bombardiers twice in order to get 
moved up in line and shipped out earlier. 

Doubts about War 

During the very intense two-and-a-half year period in the army 
from May 1943 to December 1945, Zinn’s idealism about “the 
Good War” was chipped away bit by bit. By the end of the war, 
he no longer believed that war solved problems at all. Several 
particular experiences mark his progression from an avid sup- 
porter of the war to a disillusioned warrior. 

The first of the transformative experiences took place even before 
he reached the front, while heading to Europe on the Queen Mary. 
A random disruption in protocol led to a black man being acci- 
dentally seated next to a white sergeant in the eating area. The 
white sergeant flew into a rage and yelled, “Get him out of here 
till I finish!” Zinn was in charge of maintaining order in the mess 
hall and told the sergeant that if he objected to the conditions he 
was free to leave without finishing his food. “What is this war 

Zinn learned a lesson from the bigoted sergeant that came in 
handy later during the civil rights struggles. Most racists have 
something they care about more than segregation. Figuring out 
what it was could be helpful when negotiating. 

Impassioned as he was to fight fascism, he didn’t take well to 
military order. He chafed against the strict class hierarchy and 
regimentation of military life. He and his buddies in his nine-man 
crew agreed to drop the salutes and the “yes-sirs” and “no-sirs” 
when they were among themselves. But on board ship, they had 
to comply with army protocol and the enlisted men had to eat 
separate from the officers. 

Bombing Missions 

Zinn was stationed at East An- 
glia, England, flying bombing 
missions over Berlin, Czecho- 
slovakia, and Hungary. One 
specific bombing mission had 
a particularly jolting effect on 
him, one that would contribute 
to his change of heart about 
war. During the final days of 
the war, only three weeks be- 
fore the German surrender, he 
received orders to participate 
in a bombing raid of Royan, a 
resort town on the Atlantic 
coast of France. 

It seemed strange to be bombing a French town far inside the al- 
lied front, which had already progressed far into Germany. 
Royan had already been bombed and practically destroyed, but 
word came down that several thousand German troops were 
holed up there. At the time Zinn didn’t question the orders, but 
thought it strange that instead of the usual five-hundred-pound 
demolition bombs, the planes would be unloading canisters of 
jellied gasoline, what they then called “liquid fire.” Twelve hun- 


dred bombers dumped napalm supposedly on German soldiers, 
but also on the French population. It was one of the first times 
napalm was used in warfare. 

It was only much later that the full implications of what he had 
been doing as a bombardier dawned on him. From his vantage 
point high in the sky, all he could see of the bombs he dropped 
were flashes of light like matchsticks. He couldn’t see people 
scorched and shattered, torn limb from limb. He couldn’t hear 
their screams. He was just following orders. When he thought 
back on it later, it was clear that the Royan operation could not 
have had any significant effect on the military 

K s of the war. Were they just test- 

: didn’t occur to him when caught 
ie fog of war. There was only one 
iring the war when he questioned 
Fs justification. A gunner he had 
e friends with one day told Zinn 
ey were not fighting a war against 
n. On the contrary, he said, it was 
ggle among powerful empires for 
lance over the resources of the 
. Great Britain, the United States, 
oviet Union-they were all corrupt 
s. They had no moral qualms with 
r s tyranny, violence, or racism. 
/ just wanted to run the world 

^inn asked the gunner why he was 
there, and the answer was, To 
talk to guys like you.” Zinn 
was struck and couldn't get it 
out of his mind. When he re- 
turned from the war, he gath- 
ed his war memorabilia into an 
ivelope, wrote “never again” on 
, and stashed it away out of sight. 

j v 


John Hersey s book Hiroshima, which vividly portrayed the hell 
created by the atomic bomb for the people of Hiroshima. 
Through Hersey, he was transported to the scene of the horror, 
seeing people with their skin burned and hanging from their bod- 
ies, their eyeballs pushed out of their sockets, arms and legs tom 
off, atrocious wounds, and radioactive poisoning in their blood. 
Much later, as a fellow at Harvard’s Center for East Asian stud- 
ies, he studied the bombing more and published an article called 
“A Mess of Death and Documents.” He learned from interviews 

with seven hundred Japanese officers that they had been on the 
verge of surrender before the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima 
and Nagasaki. They would have certainly surrendered within a 
few months, without the bombings and without an invasion of 
Japan. Zinn came to believe that the bomb had been dropped for 
strategic motives, to beat Japan before the Russians could, and 
to demonstrate America’s military prowess to the Soviets. The 
last act of World War II was the first act of the Cold War. 


Through his experience over Royan he came to believe that mil- 
itary development creates its own momentum, often overtaking 
the human concerns and the original intentions of those who 
choose to go to war. Military establishments do not want to 
waste a newly developed weapon. The military machine wants to 
test its new weapons, exercise its might. 

Years later, in August of 1966, Howard and Roz were invited to 
Hiroshima by a Japanese peace group to commemorate the an- 
niversary of the dropping on the bomb. Howard was asked to 
speak at a community center for survivors of the bomb. When he 
looked out upon his audience, many of them tragically disfigured 
from the bomb, he couldn’t speak. 

Final Blows of War 

The final blows to Zinn s belief in the justifications for the war came 
when he lost his two closest army buddies in the very last weeks of 
the war. Ed Plotkin was twenty-six; Joe Perry was only nineteen. A 
few days after the war in Europe was declared over, Zinn received 
a letter he had sent to Joe Perry, returned marked “Deceased.” 

When he returned to New York he looked up Ed Plotkin. He 
found out from Plotkin s wife that her husband had been killed 
in a plane crash over the Pacific only a few days before the war 
was over. In a strange twist of fate, Plotkin had snuck out from 
Fort Dix for one final rendezvous with his wife before being 
shipped off to war, and in that meeting they had conceived a 
child. Ed Plotkin would never know he had a daughter. 

Many years later when Professor Zinn was teaching, he received 
a note saying, “Ed Plotkin ’s daughter wants to meet you.” He 
spent time with her and told her everything he could remember 
about the father who was taken before she would ever see him. 

The loss of his two best army buddies left a bitter sting and a 
marked change to his approach to life. “I feel I have been given 
a gift-undeserved, just luck-almost fifty years of life,” he wrote in 
his memoir. “I am always aware of that.” Often Ed and Joe would 
appear in a recurring dream, reminding him of his great fortune, 
the gift of life. He would wake up with renewed commitment to 


living life fully, not wasting it, and trying to give something back. 
He felt he owed it to Ed and Joe to try to make whatever effort 
he could to try to realize the dream of the better world that they 
all believed they were fighting for. 

The memory of Ed and Joe provided 
a compass to remind him he had no 
right to sink into despair. He must 
insist on hope that a better 
world is possible. And it was Ed 
and Joe, more than anything, 
who brought home to him the 
reality of war, the suffering of 
those so far below him as he 
unloaded bombs from the sky. 

The war was over, but nagging 
doubts took hold inside him. Was it 
all really necessary? 

The Nazis were so evil that opposing them seemed the only de- 
cent, just thing to do. The war was seen almost universally as a 
“good war.” But as he reflected on it, Zinn came to the conclusion 
that once war is in progress; the whole process is so degrading to 


human morality that it begins to make both sides look increas- 
ingly alike in their barbaric brutality. As in Royan, the good guys 
often bombed people who were supposedly “on our side.” The 
brutality of allied bombings of innocent civilians in both Germany 
and Japan was overall much worse than the “bad guys” had done 
in the first place. 

If the allied governments were really, as 
they claimed, going to war against the 
evils of fascism, why did they stand by 
and do nothing when Japan was 
slaughtering innocent Chinese civilians, or when General Franco, 
with Hitler’s help, was bombing his own countrymen in Spain? 
(Franco remained in power for decades after the war.) And 
though the Americans opposed the crimes against humanity of 
the Nazis, at home the U.S. government put Japanese Americans 
into concentration camps and maintained a system of violent op- 
pression of African Americans held over from the days of slavery. 


War, he concluded, is not some deeply em 
bedded need of human beings; it is ma 
nipulated by political leaders, who 
use propaganda and coercion to 
force people to participate. Without 
that, the public is not interested in 
war. In 1917 the U.S. government 
sent seventy-five thousand lecturers 
around the country to give lectures to 
millions of people to stir up support for 
World War I. In later times the propa 
ganda was broadcast through mass 
media to millions of people. 

In 2005 Zinn told Amy 
Goodman of Democracy 
Now, “In modern warfare, 
soldiers fire, they drop bombs, 
and they have no notion, really, 
of what is happening to the human 
beings that they’re firing on. Every 
thing is done at a distance. This enables ter 
rible atrocities to take place. And I think 
reflecting back on that bombing raid, and think 
ing of that in Hiroshima and all of the other 
raids on civilian cities and the killing of huge 
numbers of civilians in German and Japan 
ese cities, the killing of a hundred thousand 
people in Tokyo in one night of fire-bomb 
ing — all of that made me realize war, even TOM' 
so-called good wars against fascism like "j, 

World War II, wars don’t solve any funda- Y/f/, ‘ 

mental problems, and they always poison WWL 'ifffll 

everybody on both sides. They poison the minds 

and souls of everybody on both sides. We are see- 

ing that now in Iraq, where the minds of our soldiers are being 

poisoned by being an occupying army in a land where they are 

not wanted. And the results are terrible.” 

Zinn told Guernica magazine that his 
study of history confirmed his belief 
that war was degrading to all partici- 
pants. “I began to think of war, even 
so-called ‘good wars’ like World 
War II, as corrupting everybody. 
Violence begetting violence. The 
good guys beginning to act like 
the bad guys. And when I studied 
the history of wars, it seemed to 
me that that was the case. Athens 
vs. Sparta in the Peloponnesian 
War. The Athenians presumably 
the democratic state. The Spar- 
tans the totalitarian state. But 
as the war went on — 
and you can see this in 
Thucydides’s History of 
the Peloponnesian War — 
the Athenians began to act like 
the Spartans. They began commit- 
ting atrocities and cruelties. So I saw this as a characteristic of 
war, even so-called ‘good wars.’” 

Back to School 

Back home from the war, Zinn wanted to further his education. 
Fortunately at that time, the GI Bill would pay his fees. But even 
with the government paying his tuition, Zinn could not at first 
afford to go to school. Man cannot live by education alone. He 
must have food and shelter. He must have income. 

For a while, Howard and Roz tried living with Roz’ parents, but 
that didn’t work. To break out on their own, they had to estab- 
lish a home and an economic base. Roz got a job as a secretary 
and Howard tried going back to work at the shipyard. He went 
through a series of depressing, dead-end jobs that included wait- 
ing tables, digging ditches, and working in a brewery. Between 
jobs he collected unemployment insurance. 


Howard and Roz managed to rent a rat-infested basement apart- 
ment in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, a notoriously tough 
neighborhood. Soon after, their first child, a daughter they 
named Myla, was born. And then, in 1949, three years after 
leaving the military and with his second child on the way, 
Howard, at age twenty-seven, returned to school as a freshman 
at New York University. 

Though the GI Bill paid the tuition, Howard still had to work full- 
time to make ends meet. He attended classes during the day and 
worked from 4 p.m. to midnight at a Manhattan warehouse load- 
ing trucks. Roz also worked part time. Soon the family got a 
place the on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in a low-income 
housing project near the East River. It was a big improvement. 
It had no ants or cockroaches. It even had some trees and a play- 
ground on the grounds of the project. 

The Graduate 

Zinn burned through the undergradu- 
ate requirements at NYU in only two 
and a half years. In 1951, he gradu- 
ated with a bachelor’s degree. He en- 
rolled at Columbia University for 
graduate school, majoring in history 
with a minor in economics. He be- 


came fascinated with the history of 
labor struggles and wrote his mas- 
ter’s thesis about the Colorado coal 
strike of 1913-1914. The thesis 
reappeared much later in the form of 
an essay called “The Ludlow Mas- 
sacre” in his book The Politics of 
History, published in 1970. In 
1952 he received his master’s 
degree from Columbia. 

Zinn told Revolutionary Worker in 1998, “I got into history not 
to be a historian, not to be a scholar, not to be an academic, not 
to write scholarly articles for scholarly journals, not to go to ac- 
ademic conferences to deliver papers to bored fellow historians. 
I got into history because 1 was already an activist at the age of 
eighteen. I was working in a shipyard. I was organizing young 
shipyard workers. And I was introduced to radical ideas. I was 
reading Marx, I was reading Upton Sinclair, I was reading Jack 
London, I was reading The Grapes of Wrath. So I was a polit- 
ically aware young man working in the shipyard. I was there for 
three years. Then I enlisted in the Air Force. I was a bombardier 
in the United States Air Force, and came out and worked at var- 
ious jobs. All of these influences: I came from a working class 
family... my upbringing.” 

After earning his master’s, he went on for his doctoral degree, 
again majoring in history but this time with a minor in political sci- 
ence. While at Columbia he studied with some of the most re- 
spected historians of the time, including Richard Hofstadter, Henry 
Steele Commager, David Donald, Richard Morris, Jacques Barzun, 
and William Leuchtenburg. 

Though Zinn didn’t actually 
take any courses from Hof- 
stadter, Hoftstadter did 
chair his dissertation de- 
fense. Zinn was im- 
pressed with Hofstadter ’s 
writing, particularly an 
early work, The American 
Political Tradition, 
which reflected Hofs- 
tadter ’s younger, more 
radical inclinations. 

Zinn also admired Pro- 
fessor David Donald for his 
deep personal involvement in 
his teaching. For him history 
was not just an abstract, academic 

study, but something living, something that really moved him. 
Zinn was impressed when he watched Donald give a lecture on 
the abolitionists with tears in his eyes. That was the way any sub- 
ject should be taught, Zinn thought. Teachers should teach about 
things about which they are truly passionate. 

A Teaching Job 

Zinn’s teaching career began with a back injury while working at 
the warehouse, after which he was forced to look for an alter- 
native to a job with heavy lifting. He managed to get hired for 
two part-time teaching jobs. Zinn found that part-time teachers 
often end up doing more work than full time professors. He 
taught two evening courses at Brooklyn College and four day 
courses at Upsala College in East Orange, New Jersey. He had 
to drive an hour west into New Jersey four days each week and 
an hour east to Brooklyn on the two other days, alternating back 
and forth between a daytime schedule and a nighttime schedule. 
Upsala needed teachers for government more than for history, so 
his minor in political science came in handy. 

The civil rights movement that was to blossom in the 1960s was 
still just a glimmer in 1956. The Supreme Court decision Brown 
versus the Board of Education of Topeka had been issued in 
1954. It declared that the fourteenth amendment to the Consti- 
tution prohibited racial segregation in schools, overturning ear- 
lier rulings that authorized “separate but equal” school facilities 
for blacks. But the decision had not done much to change the in- 
stitutionalized racism of the U.S., especially in the South. 

During the election of 1956, neither the incumbent President 
Eisenhower nor his Democratic Party challenger, Illinois Gover- 
nor Adlai Stevenson, took a stand on civil rights. After the elec- 
tion, Eisenhower proposed the Civil Rights Act of 1957, and 
Republican congressmen, in an effort to win black votes, pushed 
it through, setting the stage for further action on civil rights. The 
U.S. was still in the grip of McCarthyism. Anti-Communist hys- 
teria sent a cold chill of fear through all levels of society and 
pushed many entertainers, union activists, and educators out of 
work under suspicion of having Communist sympathies. 

Out of the Blue 

It had never occurred to Zinn that he might move his family down 
south or take a job teaching in a black college. On the other 
hand, some of his experiences had laid the groundwork for un- 
derstanding the conditions under which black Americans lived. 
Living in the housing project in New York, he mixed constantly 
with people of all kinds of ethnic groups, including Irish Ameri- 
cans, Italian Americans, African Americans, and Puerto Rican 
Americans. In New York various races and nationalities lived side 
by side in integrated neighborhoods and apartment buildings. 
That didn’t mean New York lacked racial prejudice. Zinn had 
seen plenty of prejudice on the basis of race as well as class. 

His education in history had made only too clear the contradic- 
tions between the theory and practice of American democracy. 
The literature he read, including Richard Wright’s Native Son, 
the poetry of Langston Hughes, and Upton Sinclair’s The Jun- 
gle, had given him some insight into the conditions of being poor 


and black. While working as a laborer he had seen discrimination 
as blacks were excluded from labor unions and denied the op- 
portunity to work. In the military he had seen racial prejudice in- 
stitutionalized. And his own struggles as a member of a poor 
immigrant family had given him sympathy for others on the 
lower rungs of a tough, competitive society. 

In his autobiography he wrote, “That was my world for the first 
thirty-three years of my life-the world of unemployment and bad 
employment, of me and my wife leaving our two- and three-year- 
olds in the care of others while we went to school or to work, liv- 
ing most of that time in cramped and unpleasant places, 
hesitating to call the doctor when the children were sick because 
we couldn’t afford to pay him, finally taking the children to hos- 
pital clinics where interns could take care of them. This is the 
way a large part of the population lives, even in this, the richest 
country in the world. And when, armed with the proper degrees, 
I began to move out of that world, becoming a college professor, 
I never forgot that.” 

And yet, though he had not planned it, there was also a mark of 
destiny on his being suddenly transported from New York to At- 
lanta, in the heart of the segregated south, the home of Martin 
Luther King, Jr., a place that would emerge during Zinn’s years 
there as a vital center of an historic civil rights struggle. Zinn set- 
tled down right in the middle of it. He was to become not only 
an eyewitness to some of the most intense transitions of Ameri- 
can history, but he was also to be an active participant. 

North to South 

The Zinn family had to pack up, uproot, and leave New York, 
then transplant themselves in Atlanta, Georgia, which was in the 
’50s still deeply set in the traditions of white supremacy, with 
laws enforcing separation, or segregation, of the races. In a 
place where segregation had been the law of the land, white 
landlords were not enthusiastic about renting their properties to 
a professor at a school for black women, what they called the 
“nigra college.” When he told them where he worked, he would 
find that there were no vacancies. Eventually, however, the Zinn 
family managed to find a small house in a friendly, white, work- 
ing class neighborhood in the city of Decatur, east of Atlanta. 

Atlanta was as segregated in 1956 as Johannesburg, South 
Africa, Zinn said. If a black person was seen downtown it was be- 
cause he or she was working for a white person. And if a black 
and white person appeared together, and it wasn’t clearly 
demonstrated that the black was working for the white, the am- 
biance of the area would suddenly become very tense. The stu- 
dents of Spelman, being both black and female, felt that they 
had two strikes against them. Getting a good education was one 
way to try to compensate for that fact. A college degree was a 
way to arm themselves to face a cold, harsh world that was in- 
different to their aspirations as human beings. 

As a northerner plunged into southern segregation, Zinn was 
suddenly confronted with the rude reality of the segregated 
south. He soon penetrated the polite decorum of his students 
and perceived it as a cover for the lifetime of indignation they 


harbored for being treated like second class human beings, or 
animals. Once he asked his students to write down their first 
memory of racial prejudice, and it opened the floodgates to their 
feelings of being discriminated against since birth. 

As a teacher, Zinn believed 
in total involvement. The 
commonly held belief that 
professional people should 
not mix their personal or po- 
litical beliefs with their work 
made no sense to him. He 
saw no reason why a teacher 
or a historian should have to 
separate his profession from 
his own personal concerns 
and convictions. In the course 
of his profession, he found 
himself on a collision course 
with the old class hierarchy 
of the South. 

Challenging the System 

A few months after starting 
his job, he took a group of 
students to observe a session 
of the Georgia State Legisla- 
tor. As they looked for a 
place to sit, they found 
themselves facing a sign that 
said “colored.” It was a 
proclamation that ordered 
African Americans to con- 
fine themselves to that part 
of the gallery. The general 
seating area, however, was 
practically empty, so the stu- 
dents decided to sit there. 


The venerable congressmen, engaged in a serious discussion 
about fishing rights, were suddenly no longer able to carry on 
their business, so unnerved were they by the sight of the black 
women in the white section. The Speaker of the House exploded 

into a rage, grabbed the microphone, and ordered the 
“nigras” to get back where 

they belonged. The congres- / 

sional floor practically broke Jjjk 

into a riot as the legislators Wm 

joined the chorus of angry yells 
at the students who were defy- 

ing their sacred institutions of i S| 

white supremacy. The police Vs ^J f| P ifm* f| 

were called to the scene, and /g 
the students backed down and 
chose to submit to sitting in the \ 
colored section; it was a better A 
alternative than going to jail, 
getting kicked out of college, ' ? 

or being cut off from their op- 
portunity for an education. 

As the students filed into the 
colored section and Zinn stood 
nearby, a guard approached 
him. Zinn explained that the 
young women were students 
from Spelman College who 
had come to learn about how 
the legislature was conducted. 
The guard disappeared and a 
few minutes later the Speaker 
of the House approached the 
podium again and addressed 
the gallery. This time his man- 
ner had changed to a grandiose 
display of magnanimity as he 
welcomed the Spelman stu- 
dents to the session. 


As the faculty sponsor of the Social Science Club, Zinn fre- 
quently took his students on field trips and undertook projects 
with them. Early in 1959, Zinn suggested to the students of the 
club that they take on a project involving social change. One stu- 
dent came up with an idea for confronting the policies of racism 
in the public libraries. 

Despite the 1954 Supreme Court ruling that outlawed segrega- 
tion in schools and public facilities, the southern institutions of 
racial discrimination remained solidly entrenched. The Brown 
versus Board of Education decision established integration as the 
federal law, overruling any local laws to the contrary. The federal 
government was theoretically obligated to enforce the law 
against segregation, but the change was not so easy to enforce. 
If people wanted the system to change, they would have to con- 
front the institutions of racism and the people who maintained 
them one by one. In a confrontation, the federal law was theo- 
retically on the side of the challengers. But centuries of inertia 
were on the side of the old ways. And hate, fear, and vicious- 
ness were deeply tied up in maintaining the old system of op- 
pression that had grown out of centuries of slavery. 

Though public libraries could not legally be segregated, blacks 
were routinely sent away from all of the Atlanta libraries except 
those designated specifically for blacks. 

Black students began to initiate change by going into the whites- 
only Carnegie Library and asking for classic works on freedom and 
equality, such as John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty, Thomas Paine’s 
Common Sense, or the Declaration of Independence. They knew 
they would be turned away and directed to the black library. But 
librarians were educated people and it was disturbing for them to 
be reminded of the contradiction between the principles underly- 
ing the creation of the United States and their practice of turning 
away blacks. The students increased the frequency of their re- 
quests, then alerted the librarians that they were considering filing 
a lawsuit. The Library Board met in a panic and finally settled on 
ending its policy on segregation. 


tory tends to focus on major milestones, it is not just those major 

moments that bring about social change, but a multitude of small 

actions that prepare the way for large breakthrough events. 

Zinn became increasingly involved in the struggles, participating 
in many demonstrations, picketing, and marching against segre- 
gation in many places. During that period he was only arrested 
once, and ironically it was not at a demonstration. On a cold 
night in 1959, he was driving and came upon one of his students, 
Roslyn Pope, an honor student who just returned from a schol- 
arship year in Paris. He offered Roslyn a lift to her dorm. When 

the glare of police car lights and a police officer ordered them 
out of the car. Zinn asked the officer what the charge was. 
“You’re sittin’ in a car with a nigger gal and wantin’ to know 
what’s the charge?” the officer answered. The police took them 
to the station, booked them for disorderly conduct, and took 
them into custody. 

Zinn asked to make the one phone call he was allowed and he 
was pointed to a pay phone, which was useless to him since he 
had no change. Fortunately another prisoner gave him a dime, 
but he then discovered the wire to the telephone had been cut. 
Not to be deterred, he held the ends of the severed wire together 
while he called a lawyer, who came and got Zinn and the stu- 
dent released before dawn. Zinn felt like he was living through a 
story by Franz Kafka. 

By early 1960 Roslyn Pope was class president at Spelman. As 
demonstrations gained momentum across the South, students 
from the five black colleges connected with 
Atlanta University {Morehouse Col- 
lege, Clark, Morris Brown, 
the Theological Center, and 
Spelman) began making 
plans to stage actions to take 
on segregation in Atlanta. Ju- 
lian Bond, a Morehouse student 
who later became famous as an 
activist and a member of the 
Georgia House of Representa- 
tives, and Lonnie King, a 
football star, contacted 
students from the other 
black colleges to join 
forces and coordinate 
efforts. Word of their 
plans reached the presi- 
dents of the colleges, who 
began scrambling for a way 
to divert a confrontation. 


The presidents proposed an alternative to demonstrations. They 
suggested that the students address their grievances by running 
a full-page ad in the Atlanta Constitution, for which the college 
presidents offered to raise the money. The students accepted the 
offer, and Roslyn Pope was designated to write the ad, but the 
presidents had achieved only a slight reprieve. Their problems 
were not over. 

The ad appeared in the Constitution under the title “An Appeal 
for Human Rights.” The presidents were not prepared for the 
soaring rhetoric of Ms. Pope. The ad said that the students had 
joined their hearts, minds, and bodies to gain the rights for which 
the Declaration of Independence said they were entitled as 
human beings. And furthermore, it said, echoing the Declaration 
of Independence, “We do not intend to wait placidly for those 
rights which are already legally and morally ours to be meted 
out to us one at a time.” In fact, the ad said, the students in- 
tended to “use every legal and nonviolent means” to secure the 
rights of full citizenship. The ad set off a firestorm of anger and 
indignation that spread rapidly from the college presidents all 
the way up to Georgia Governor Ernest Vandiver, who issued a 
statement calling the ad “anti-American,” saying it was “obvi- 
ously not written by a student,” and in fact, did not “sound like 
it was written in this country.” 

This was not long after Senator Joseph McCarthy’s anti-Com- 
munism hearings, when lives were destroyed by accusations of 
Communist sympathies. The Red Scare had waned a bit, but ha- 
tred of Communism was still a handy device for discrediting any- 
thing that might be threatening to the establishment. Vandiver’s 
claim that the ad sounded like it was not written in America was 
a veiled accusation that the students were being encouraged and 
influenced by foreign Communists. 

But the threat failed to intimidate the students. In fact, his trou- 
bles were about to get much worse. A few days after the ad ap- 
peared hundreds of black students staged sit-ins at ten different 
cafeterias in downtown Atlanta. In synchronization at 11 a.m., 
hundreds of students took forbidden whites-only seats in 
restaurants, and when they were ordered to leave, they refused. 


Seventy-seven demonstrators were arrested, including fourteen 
Spelman students. They were charged with multiple counts of 
conspiracy, breaching the peace, intimidating restaurant own- 
ers, and refusing to leave the premises, charges that could have 
earned each one of them up to ninety years in prison. But with 
so many cases, the system was overwhelmed and the students 
were never brought to trial. One of the Spelman students was 
Marian Wright, who would later become famous as the first black 
woman lawyer in Mississippi and the founder of the Children’s 
Defense Fund. 

At one of the 1960 demonstrations Howard and Roslyn Zinn 
participated by sitting down for coffee with two black students at 
the segregated lunch counter of Richs Department Store in At- 
lanta. When the management asked them to leave, they refused. 
The management didn’t want to call the police, cause a scene, 
and draw attention to the store’s policy of segregation, which 
was increasingly an embarrassment. On the other hand, letting 
blacks sit with whites at the lunch counter blatantly defied cen- 
turies of ingrained habits and offended some customers. In frus- 
tration and confusion, they decided to just close the store. They 


began to shut down the lunch counter, 
turned off the lights, and started putting the 
chairs on tables. But the Zinns and their 
friends continued to sit and enjoy their coffee 
as if nothing was wrong. Meanwhile white 
customers were becoming outraged 
that the restaurant was suddenly 
shutting down and turning them 
out. After a few more similar inci- 
dents, Rich’s Department Store 
decided to change its policy. 

Howard continued to be at the 
center of civil rights activities in At- 
lanta during the early ’60s. The ex- 
perience gave him great respect for 
the power of people to change their 
circumstances and to confront injus- 
tice and prevail. 

No such effort, 

no pitifully 
small picket 
line” should ever be 
underestimated, he said. “The 
>ower of a bold idea uttered publicly in 
lefiance of dominant opinion cannot be 
:asily measured.” A 


Zinn’s activism finally, perhaps inevitably, got him 
fired from Spelman. The specific events leading 
to his dismissal began in spring of 1963 when 
one of his students, 

Herschelle Sullivan, 
wrote an editorial for 
the college paper com- 
plaining about Spelman’s 
tight control over its students, 
specifically referring to the adminis- 
tration’s relationship with students 
“benevolent despotism.” 

Spelman’s president. Dr. Albert Manley, 
was enraged at being referred to by impli- 
cation as a tyrant. As the college’s first 
black president, Manley was in a tight spot. 

He could easily become a scapegoat for the 
white establishment over the rise of activism 
and rebelliousness during his term as presi- 
dent. Manley panicked and began to take 
steps to restore order. But significant events 
were changing the old South. 

Manley threw a tirade against Sullivan for writ- 
ing the article and against the editors of the 
paper for publishing it. Zinn rose to Sullivan’s 
defense and wrote Manley a long letter saying 
that he had encouraged students in his classes 
to think independently and to be courageous in 
the face of repression. He further asserted that 
the administration’s effort to discourage 

freedom of expression was a violation of the values of a liberal 
arts education. Manley responded with cold silence. Five other 
faculty members wrote similar letters to Zinn’s. Manley still did 
not respond. Tensions mounted. 

Students presented a petition to the administration asking it to 
promote a new atmosphere that would better prepare students 
for the “rapidly changing world.” Furious that others would ques- 
tion his mission, Manley told student leaders that if they didn’t 
like Spelman, they could leave. He demanded that the school 
newspaper pull the petition from the paper before it went to 
press. The honors student who helped publicize the petition re- 
ceived a letter notifying her that her application for a scholarship 
had been denied on the basis of poor citizenship. 

In response, the students invited the faculty to a meeting to dis- 
cuss these issues. A dozen teachers came, but not Manley. Later, 
at a faculty meeting chaired by Manley, Zinn suggested listening 
to a tape of the students’ meeting to hear their grievances, but 
Manley refused. Zinn visited Manley in his office to smooth over 
the tensions. But Manley was unmoved. He saw Zinn as an in- 
stigator and believed the students would not take such actions 
without someone older putting them up to it. 

Two months later, when the semester was over, and Zinn and his 
family were packing up to drive north for the summer, Zinn re- 
ceived a letter from Manley telling him his appointment would 
not be renewed. Zinn was tenured and had some rights, but fight- 
ing the decision through the courts would have been difficult, ex- 
pensive, and time consuming. He was given one year’s pay to 
discourage him from taking action. He took the extra year’s 
salary and moved on. His acquiescence earned him a year to 
concentrate on his writing. Years later, the American Associa- 
tion of University Professors would investigate the incident and 
cite Spelman for violating Zinn’s academic freedom. 


Howard Zinn and Alice Walker 

One of the most valuable 
and enduring legacies of 
Zinn’s tenure at Spelman 
was a friendship he devel- 
oped with one of this stu- 
dents, Alice Walker, who 
later became the 
Pulitzer Prize winning 
author of The Color 
Purple, In Love and 
Trouble, and many 
other popular books of 
fiction and poetry, as 
well as biographies and 
essays. When she arrived at 
Spelman she was fresh off her 
farm in Eatontown, Georgia. 

Z inn met Walker when he happened to be seated next to her at an 
honors dinner for freshmen. They hit it off immediately and be- 
came friends for life. She enrolled in his Russian history course, 
where he had students read from great works of Russian literature 
by Gogol, Chekhov, Dostoevsky, and Tolstoy. Zinn first became 
aware of Walker s prowess as a writer when she turned in an essay 
on Dostoevsky and Tolstoy that stunned him. He said he had 
rarely read a literary essay “of such grace and style” by anyone. 

When Walker came to Spelman, the civil rights demonstrations 
had already been going on for a while, and she soon became 
part of the action. She became a frequent visitor at the Zinn 
home. Soon after he was fired from Spelman, Walker also left, 
writing a sad farewell letter to him that said, “There is nothing 
really here for me.” 

About Zinn, Walker wrote, “What can I say that will in any way 
convey the love, respect, and admiration I feel for this unas- 
suming hero who was my teacher and mentor, this radical his- 
torian and people-loving ‘trouble-maker,’ this man who stood 


with us and suffered with us? Howard Zinn was the best teacher 
I ever had, and the funniest. Here is a history teacher and a his- 
tory maker to give us hope, especially the young, for whom he 
has always committed so much of his life.” 


Zinn’s relationship as an advisor to the Student Nonviolent Co- 
ordinating Committee (SNCC) began soon after its founding in 
1960 when students who had participated in sit-ins formed the 
organization on the campus of Shaw University in Raleigh, North 
Carolina. The students of SNCC asked Zinn to be one of two 
adult advisers and to join their executive committee. He became 
increasingly involved in the civil rights struggle as it intensified. 

In summer of 1962 Zinn took on a research project for a liberal 
research group in Atlanta called the Southern Regional Council. 
He was asked to look into racial conflict that had been spiraling 
out of control over the last several months in the town of Albany, 
Georgia. A white civil rights activist named Bill Hansen was ar- 
rested with sixteen other people and put into a cell with a white 
prisoner, who was told that Hansen was one of those meddling 
northerners who had come down south "to straighten us out.” It 
was an implicit license to enact violence and the prisoner took 
the hint. While Hansen sat on the floor of the cell reading a 
newspaper, his cellmate attacked him, knocked him uncon- 


office, reeling, with blood streaming down his face, and stag- 
gered across the street to the office of police chief Laurie Pritch- 
ett, who called for medical aid. 

Sheriff Cull Campbell of Daugherty County in Albany, Georgia, 
was deeply entrenched in the nastiest racism ever produced by 
Southern culture. He did not mask his racial bigotry and hatred 
with a pretense of gentility. He resorted to deadly violence in the 
blink of an eye. It was a bold move to even walk into his office, 
as Zinn did a few weeks later, to inquire about the incidents with 
Hansen and King. 

When Zinn walked into the sheriff’s headquarters and asked to 
see him, Campbell invited him back into his office, then turned, 
stared him in the face and said, “You’re not with the goddamn 
niggers are you?” Zinn just asked what had happened to King. 
Campbell said, “Yeah, I knocked hell out of the son of a bitch, 
and I’ll do it again. I wanted to let him know... I’m a white man 

and he’s a damn nigger.” 

Zinn then crossed the street to Chief Pritchett’s 
office. Pritchett was the gentler half of the 
good cop/bad cop relationship with Camp 
bell. Campbell was quick to swing the club 
Pritchett was more moderate, calling for 
medical aid to clean up the messes. It 
was institutionalized racism in its most 
violent, ugly extreme. For example, 
when King’s six-month pregnant sister 
in-law went to the jail with her three chil 
dren to take food to a prisoner, a 
deputy sheriff beat her unconscious 
and caused her to miscarry. 

Zinn asked Pritchett why he didn’t 
arrest Campbell for assault. Pritch- 
ett just smiled. They parted with a 
handshake and Pritchett’s next ap- 
pointment walked in. It was Martin 
Luther King, Jr. King and Zinn 


greeted each other. They were already acquainted from both 
being involved in the civil rights movement in Atlanta, Martin 
Luther King, Jr.’s birthplace. 

Zinn’s report about Albany to 
the Southern Regional Coun- 
cil became a front-page story 
in the New York Times. The 
Nation also published an arti- 
cle by Zinn about events in Al- 
bany called “Kennedy, the 
Reluctant Emancipator.” Both 
articles stoked controversy 
and rage. When reporters 
asked Martin Luther King, Jr. 
if he agreed with the article in 
The Nation, he said he did, 
and pointed to the institution- 
alized racism of the FBI. This 
infuriated J. Edgar Hoover, 
the tyrannical head of the 
agency, who did not take crit- 
icism kindly. Zinn had actually 
aimed his criticisms not just at 
the FBI, but beyond it to the 
Department of Justice and 
the White House itself. But the press only focused on the criti- 
cism of the FBI, and in Hoover’s fury, he increasingly targeted 
King with wiretaps, surveillance, and harassment. 

Zinn and Martin Luther King, Jr. 

In 2002 Zinn told interviewer David Barsamian about his per- 
sonal acquaintance with Marin Luther King, Jr. Zinn said that 
because he and King were both involved in Atlanta’s close-knit 
black community, it was inevitable that they would meet during 
various social occasions. Zinn said that in person King was very 
different from the way he appeared when delivering one of his 
great orations. King was, “very low key,” Zinn said, explaining 


that he was not the type to break into oratory or deliver stirring 
prose in everyday conversation. He was “very quiet,” Zinn said, 
and “modest, thoughtful, measured, nothing of the charismatic 
leader showing in personal encounters.” 


is an Action 

On the other hand, according to 
Zinn, King’s belief in nonvio 
lence is often misunderstood 
or misconstrued. Because 
King was murdered, he is 
remembered as a martyr, 
but his being a martyr 
was incidental to his 
work, not the 
essence of it. He lj 
was not a martyr, in fl 
the sense of “one jj 
who willingly en- 
dures suffering for a 
cause.” He was a 
man of action, who 
was courageous enough 
to take risks and sometimes 
endured suffering as a result 
of his activities. 

When King was questioned 
about his belief in nonvio- 
lence, he would say that he did 
not want to take an absolutist 
point of view on the subject. Peo- 
ple would ask, “What if your wife 
was being attacked?” And King 
would say, “I don’t know what I would 
do in that situation, but 1 can tell you how 
I feel about the specific situation we are deal- 
ing with today.” Though King sometimes went 
to jail in the course of taking action, he accepted it in the course 
of taking action, not because he believed it was a just response 
for him to be imprisoned for what he did. 


Though King has been comfortably repackaged by today’s media 
as a nice, mild-mannered man who claimed to “have a dream,” in 
reality he was not passive, Zinn noted, and neither was Ghandi. 
The term the people in the southern movement used was not sim- 
ply nonviolence, but nonviolent direct action. It was not passive; 
it was in fact very active, even aggressive, but nonviolent. The idea, 
Zinn said, was that if you’re going to make progress against the es- 
tablished forces of repression, you must take action against it, but 
you do it nonviolently. Violence is something the establishment un- 
derstands well and knows how to counter. Nonviolence, on the 
other hand, inhibits the use of violent retaliation by the establish- 
ment if there are observers to tell the story to the world. 

Take a Look Around to Selma, Alabama 

In 1963 Zinn’s work with SNCC took him to Selma, the county 
seat of Dallas County, Alabama. Selma had been a slave market 
before the Civil War. In the post-slavery days, lynchings were 
common. In 1963, blacks were a substantial majority, 57 per- 
cent, of Selma’s population, but the white minority kept a tight 
grip on power primarily by preventing blacks from voting. When 
Zinn arrived in Selma, only 1 percent of its blacks were regis- 
tered to vote. If a black person 


r ^ 

* * 

98 , 

Vi ^ 


tried to register, he or she 
would a number of impedi- 
ments placed by the local gov- 
$ ernment. To register to vote, 
£ one first had to apply, fill out a 
h lengthy questionnaire, and 
k take an oral examination, 
p" Blacks and whites were asked 
' different questions. The infor- 
mation blacks were expected 
y to provide was unrealistically 
f difficult and insulting. For ex- 
ample, one such request was, 
“Summarize the Constitution of 
the United States.” 


When Zinn arrived in 
Selma in October 
1963, the struggle 
for African Ameri- 
cans’ right to vote was 
raging. Thirty-two black 
school teachers were 
fired for trying to register 
to vote. SNCCs John 
Lewis had been arrested for 
leading a picket line. Many 
others, including other SNCC 
members, had been arrested, 
and still more were brutally 
beaten or clubbed. The conflict led to war in the streets. If a 
black person wanted to exercise the right to vote, the old white 
establishment of Selma made it clear that that person risked life, 
limb, and skull for the audacity of making the attempt. 

SNCC declared October 7 to be Freedom Day; and on that day 
they would try to register hundreds of people to vote. Dick Gre- 
gory, the comedian and writer, spoke boldly in 
the face of white segregationists at a church 
meeting, angry that his wife Lillian had been ar- 
rested in Selma while demonstrating. James 
Baldwin, the novelist, made a 
strong and eloquent stand. Selma 
was no longer an isolated micro- 
cosm where white su- 
premacists could get away 

with murder and brutality. 
The world was watching. 
The twentieth century 
world of global media 
was descending on 
nineteenth century 
Jim Crow Ala- 
bama. The bold 
defiance of some 


Zinn was on the scene, taking notes minute by minute like a re- 
porter as Freedom Day unfolded. At 9:30 a.m. the line at the 
Dallas County Courthouse began to form and grew until there 
were hundreds waiting to register to vote. Standing watch over 
them were helmeted members of the sheriffs posse, armed with 
guns and clubs. Four FBI agents and two Justice Department 
lawyers were also watching events unfold. It was their job to en- 
force the federal laws that protected the right of all Americans 
to vote. But so far the federal government had shown little in- 
terest in confronting the old order. Actions like Freedom Day 
were designed in part to bring world attention to the federal gov- 
ernmenfs refusal to enforce the law against segregation and 
threaten government officials into taking action. 

The sheriff and three armed deputies crossed the street to 
where two SNCC demonstrators were standing on the steps to 


the federal building holding a sign that said “Register to Vote.” 
Within full view of the federal agents, the sheriff arrested them 
for unlawful assembly. 

There was no visible progress in the registration line. Zinn cal- 
culated that the line moved so slowly that it would take many 
years just to register the people who wanted to be registered. 
Around noon the court announced that it would break for lunch. 
At that point, no one could find a single black person who had 
completed the registration process. People had been standing in 
line for hours and were getting hungry and thirsty. 

The sheriff was reinforced by a caravan of state police vehicles 
that unloaded forty troopers with helmets, guns and clubs. There 
were still only four federal officials on the scene. Jim Forman, 
the executive director of SNCC, had telegraphed the Justice De- 
partment the night before, warning that there may be trouble at 
the voter registration efforts, but had gotten no reply. Now with 
the registration process stopped and people in line getting hun- 
gry, Forman and a local woman named Amelia Boynton ap- 
proached the sheriff and said they wanted to get some food and 
water to the people in line. The sheriff responded that the peo- 
ple would “not be molested in any way” and anyone attempting 
to give them food would be arrested. Forman and Boynton 
briefed reporters on what was happening and approached the 
Justice Department officials hoping to get some support from 
them in getting food to the people in line. 

At 2 p.m. Zinn approached the senior federal attorney and asked 
if there was any legitimate reason why the attorney couldn’t 
speak to the sheriff about allowing the people in line to get some 
food. The attorney admitted that there was no legitimate reason 
why the people in line should not be allowed to receive food, but 
said he was not going to ask the question because he knew the 
Justice Department and the Kennedy administration in Wash- 
ington would not stand behind him. 

Two SNCC workers were waiting with a shopping cart of food, 
stymied now by the police and forbidden from giving anything to 
the people in line. They decided to defy the police order. Zinn 


and a group of photographers, news- 
men, observers, and supporters ap- 
proached the court house with the 
SNCC workers. 

A trooper shouted out the order to 
move on. But the food carriers kept 
moving toward the people in line. A 
crowd of troopers jumped them, 
crowding tightly around them to 

block the view of photographers, poking 
them with cattle prods, then manhan- 
dled them into their paddy wagon. Then 
they turned on the group that had ac- 
companied the bearers of food and 
started pushing them around, trying 
to keep them from taking photo- 
graphs. One of the police officers 
smashed the camera of a reporter 
with a club. A group of troopers 
threw the reporter up against a 
car, ripped his shirt, and back- 
handed him across the mouth. 

Zinn and James Baldwin went 
into the FBI office and asked 
why they had not arrested the 
officers, who were obviously 
out of line. As a teacher of 
constitutional law, Zinn 

knew the law that said that any 
one who uses any law to deprive 
someone of their civil rights 
would be subject to fine 
or imprisonment. The 
FBI man said he had no 
power to arrest the men 
under those circum- 
stances. But Zinn also re 
cited the statute that said 
that FBI men had the au- 
thority to make arrests 
without warrants when 
laws were violated. 

That night organizers 
held a meeting in a 
church to celebrate the 
day’s activities. In fact, 
little had changed. The 
walls of resistance 
against racial equality *' 
had not come tumbling 
down. The proportion of 
black voters in Selma who 
were registered to vote, was 
still only 1 percent. But it was 

unprecedented that 350 people had stood in line and defied ob- 
stacles and intimidation to assert their right to vote. It was one 
small step and it would take many more like it to achieve any 
real progress. But it was still cause for celebration. As history 
now shows, the walls protecting segregation did eventually fall. 
And, it took many such relatively small, individual actions to 
bring about that major change. 

Zinn wrote an article for the New Republic narrating the events 
of the day. It embarrassed and angered the Justice Department. 
The chief of its civil rights division wrote an indignant letter to 
the New Republic saying the proper place for the civil rights 


/fl P iKSnB 



\ struggle was in the courts and that 
\ the Justice Department had two 
\ cases pending in Selma. He ig- 
nored the fact that the FBI could 
j have acted that day. 

I ml? In 1965 Zinn returned to Selma. 

Hl ■'W 

Pr J By then it had attracted interna- 
y / tionai attention when local authori- 
ze ties brought the hammer down on 
' anti-segregation demonstrations, with 
mass arrests, the murder by clubbing of a 
white minister, the shooting of a black man, 
and many bloody beatings. President Lyn- 
don Johnson federalized the Alabama Na- 

! tionai Guard to watch over a planned 
fifty-four-mile march for civil rights from 
Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. 

Zinn took on a writing assignment for 
The Nation for which he would visit the 

South and take stock of the changes 

wlL one hundred years after the Civil 
War ended. His tour took him 
1 to Lynchburg, Virginia; 

John’s Island, South Car- 
olina; Vicksburg, Mis- 
- sissippi; and then to 
/ Selma to join the 
J march to Montgomery. 
/ Three hundred people 
~~ started the march and 

their ranks increased as it 

progressed. This particular event occurred without casualties, with 
the protection of the military. Things were slowly changing. The 
work, struggles, bloodshed, and deaths were not for nothing. 


The Birth of a Writing Career 

While Zinn was chair of the Department of History at Spelman 
from 1956 to 1963, he also carried on academic pursuits be- 
yond the school. He received his PhD from Columbia in 1958, 
was a postdoctoral fellow in East Asian Studies at Harvard Uni- 
versity in 1960 and 1961, and was the director of Non-Westem 
Studies at Atlanta University in 1961 and 1962. In addition to 
teaching and writing his dissertation, Zinn spent the summers in 
1957 and 1958 in Denver, Colorado, studying the use of docu- 
mentary film in teaching history. 

It was during Zinn s years at Spelman that he began his writing 
career and eventually became a prolific writer of many published 
articles, essays, and books. The subject of his doctoral disserta- 
tion was the congressional career of Fiorello LaGuardia, who 
had been the three term mayor of New York from 1934 to 1945. 
“Conscience of the Jazz Age: LaGuardia in Congress” won a 
prize from American Historical Association, which sponsored its 
publication by Cornell University Press as LaGuardia in Con- 
gress in 1959. It was to be Zinn’s first book of many. 

His first published article was in Harpers magazine in 1959. It 
was called “A Fate Worse than Integration,” and it became basis 
for his larger essay, “The Southern Mystique,” published in The 
American Scholar. (For more on writing pursuits, see the section 
titled “Zinn’s Writing.”) 

Greenwood, Mississippi 

Howard and Roslyn Zinn went to Mississippi in 1963 to work 
with SNCC, but as Zinn said, “work” is a very neutral sounding 
word for what was happening there. It was during this period 
that Zinn began to contemplate the ideas that would define his 
contribution to the reporting of history, including the observa- 
tion that most history books leave out the struggles of the ma- 
jority of ordinary people who truly create history, and instead 
only focus on a few major symbolic people and events that por- 
tray a general arc of history. 


The resistance against recognizing black people as equal citizens 
was deadly in the South and it took the deaths and brutalizing of 
many people before that resistance could be worn down. Merely 
to try to register black people to vote in Mississippi in the early 
’ 60 s was to take your life into your hands. Like in Selma, the 
segregationists were determined to make sure blacks did not 
achieve any political power. 

Zinn became friends with Bob Moses, a young light-skinned 
African American man from Harlem who had moved down to 
Mississippi to work with local blacks, helping them to realize 
their rights and register to vote. For his efforts he had been 
knifed, beaten, thrown in jail, and threatened with murder. Not 
long after he had arrived in Mississippi, Moses told Zinn that he 
had been asked to examine the body of a black man, the father 
of nine children who had been killed by a white man with whom 
he had been arguing. The white man just walked up and shot 
him in the head. He was acquitted because of a black witness, 
who said it had been self defense. Later the witness recanted his 
story and told the truth — that it was cold-blooded murder. After 

Block took up the cause of a fourteen-year-old boy who had been 
charged with burglary though he claimed to be at work picking 
cotton when the crime was committed. Police stripped him, 
threw him on a concrete floor, bullwhipped him, and beat him 
with fists, a club, and a blackjack. Block photographed the boy’s 
wounds, took an affidavit from him telling his side of the story, 
and sent them to the Justice Department in Washington. This 
angered the police and intensified the street war. But it also in- 
spired local blacks to take a stand and join the cause. More of 
them started attending the SNCC meetings and more tried to 
register to vote. The assault on them continued. One night Block 
and two other SNCC members were working late when a gang 
barged into the office with guns and chains. The SNCC mem- 
bers escaped out the window and onto the roof next door. 

There were shotgun blasts in people’s homes and 
cars, attack dogs turned on protestors, and an 
onslaught of deadly intimidation, but it did 
not stop the people from demanding 
their rights. The more blacks resisted, 
the more people were inspired to join 
the movement. 


The summer of 1964 was designated Freedom Summer in Mis- 
sissippi by SNCC, along with the National Association for the 
Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Congress of 
Racial Equality (CORE), and the Southern Christian L eadership 
Conference (SCLC). Howard and Roz Zinn spent the summer 
there; Roz worked in SNCC’s Jackson office and Howard taught 
in the Freedom Schools, where black children were educated in 
the democratic process. 

Howard believed that Mississippi would never be the same again 
after the Freedom Summer. It would be years before segrega- 
tion ended, and even then racism would not be eradicated. But 
there was a marked change in the South. It was clear that 
progress was taking place and the old system of segregation was 
breaking down while a new world was born. Years later, when 
Zinn reunited with people he shared 
those struggles with, they would rem- 
inisce about the horrors of the times, 
and agreed that, despite the struggles, 
they were the best years of their lives. 

On to Boston 

During the months after being fired 
from Spelman, Zinn was very active 
in the civil rights struggle. He also 
wrote two books on the civil rights 
movement during that year, and edited 
a volume called New 
Deal Thought In 
the book, Zinn 
examined the 
New Deal and 
claimed it was a 
step in the right 
direction, but ul- 
timately found it insuf- 
ficient. (See “Zinn’s Writing” for 
more on this work.) 


During his search for a new job, he called Boston University, 
where he had previously lectured on the conditions in the South. 
He was invited to join the political science department. In his 
first year, he taught a course in the fall semester called “Civil 
Liberties” and a course in the spring semester called “Introduc- 
tion to Political Theory.” His courses were packed with two to 
four hundred students each. 

He found textbooks dull, so he went beyond them and referred 
his students to classic literature. His favorites included Arthur 
Millers The Crucible, Ron Kovic’s Born on the Fourth of July, 
Richard Wright’s Black Boy, and Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got 
His Gun. His teaching style was improvisational. He would come 
to class with stacks of paper full of notes and quotations, and 
would begin his lecture by drawing on his material in a free-form 
manner. He was unconcerned with grades. He assumed that 
those who wanted to learn would, and those who didn’t want to 
wouldn’t. He quickly became one of Boston University’s most 
popular teachers. 

War and Resistance 

The mid-sixties were tumultuous years, years of social upheaval, 
the dying of one world and the birth of another. The year 1963, 
when Zinn was fired from Spelman, was the same year that Pres- 
ident John F. Kennedy was assassinated, setting the tone for 
what would become a very violent decade. Between 1961 and 
1963, Kennedy had escalated the U.S. involvement from six 
hundred military advisers to sixteen thousand. But he was wa- 
vering and had issued an executive order to begin bringing ad- 
visers back. When Kennedy was ambushed in Dallas on 
November 22, 1963, he was replaced by Lyndon Johnson, who 
immediately reversed Kennedy’s order to withdraw one thousand 
military advisers from Vietnam, and instead Johnson sent the 
first combat troops. It was the beginning of a huge escalation of 
the war that was to drag on into the 1970s, creating deep rifts 
within the social fabric of the nation. 


at Boston University, President Johnson pushed the civil rights leg- 
islation that Kennedy had introduced in Congress. The bill reaf- 
firmed rights that had already been guaranteed in the Constitution, 
but which were denied in practice to African Americans. The leg- 
islation was designed to give “all Americans the right to be served 
in facilities which are open to the public — hotels, restaurants, the- 
aters, retail stores, and similar establishments,” as well as “greater 
protection for the right to vote.” 

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 expanded on the Civil Rights Act 
of 1957, which had been primarily a voting rights bill. It ex- 
panded and made more explicit the government’s mandate to 
support Constitutional rights for all people. It was a milestone 
that made civil rights the law of the land, gave a new level of 
recognition to civil rights for all people, and reduced the urgency 


of racial issues. Meanwhile, the war in Vietnam was churning up 
and rapidly taking center stage as the most urgent civil rights 
issue of all. Being refused the right to sit at a lunch counter was 
one thing, but being forced to kill and die for reasons no one 
seemed to be able to credibly explain was a great deal worse. 

The same year that the Civil Rights bill was passed, Johnson 
used a trumped up incident in Vietnam’s Gulf of Tonkin as a pre- 
text for drastically escalating the war in Vietnam, The govern- 
ment's story was that an American destroyer on a '‘routine 
patrol” was attacked. In fact, there was no evidence that there 
really was an attack, and secondly, it was not a routine patrol — 
it was a spying mission in foreign waters thousands of miles from 
the U.S, President Johnson used the incident to get Congress to 
give him wide latitude to step up his attacks on Vietnam. 



At that time, Zinn had no way of knowing if 
the claim of the incident at Tonkin was true, 
but he did know some relevant history. The 
U.S, had given military aid to the French in its 
attempt to hold Vietnam as a colony, and 
when France finally gave up, the U.S. 
stepped in and took over. Vietnam was rich 
in resources that interested American indus- 
trialists, including coal, iron ore, tin, copper, 
lead, zinc, nickel, manganese, titanium, 
chromite, tungsten, bauxite, apatite, 
graphite, mica, silica sand, and limestone. 

The American government took the 
position that Vietnam might fall 
under the influence of Commu- 
nists, and if so it would lead to a 
chain reaction of countries 
falling like dominoes 
stacked in a line to the 
Communists. The U.S, 
government propped up 
the dictatorial regime in 
Saigon and portrayed the war 


as a battle between two countries: North Viet 
nam, a Communist country, and South Vietnam, 
a democratic country. The South Vietnamese 
government was not democratic, but served 
the interests of the Americans, in return for 

American military and financial support 

The puppet government rejected elections 

under U.S. orders and violently sup 

pressed all resistance 

// A 











uuiii up a 

Spain’s Flo 

Mexico and claiming half its land be 
establish U.S. control in Cuba, Pue 
can Republic, Hawaii, the Philippic 
he was skeptical of the government’ 
supposedly noble efforts to protect 
attacking Vietnam. 


between Mexican and American troops as justification for start- 
ing the Mexican War. The fight had broken out on disputed ter- 
ritory, but that didn’t stop Polk from proclaiming that “American 
blood has been shed on American soil” as a rallying war cry. 
Polk’s own diaries revealed that he was looking for an excuse to 
take Mexican territory and the incident provided it. 

The U.S. blamed the bombing of the battleship Maine in Cuba on 
the Spanish and used it as an excuse to go to war against Spain, 
but the government’s claims were never proven. The incident did, 
however, justify pushing the Spanish out of Cuba and installing a 
U.S. presence there. The U.S. government found another set of 
convenient circumstances to seize the Philippines. The sinking of 
the Lusitania, which was the justification for the U.S. entry into 
World War I was another trumped up incident. While the govern- 
ment claimed a passenger ship had been sunk by ruth- 
less German submarines, the Lusitania was actually 
carrying munitions, participating in the war undercover 
with its papers altered to make 
it appear to be a passenger ship. 

In the Vietnam War, the U.S. gov- 
ernment claimed to be defending 
the right of the Vietnamese peo- 
ple for self-determination, the 
right to choose their own 
government. But Zinn 
knew that the U.S. gov- 
ernment had fought 
against self-determina- 
tion in other countries, 
like Iran, where the CIA 
engineered a coup in 
1954 to restore the 
Shah to power to pro- 
tect the interests of 
oil companies, and in 
Guatemala, where the 
U.S. invaded in 1954 to 





protect the interests of the United Fruit Company. The U.S. in fact 
supported vicious dictators all over the world, as long as they served 
the interests of U.S. corporations: Batista in Cuba, Somoza in 
Nicaragua, Suharto in Indonesia, Trujillo in the Dominican Repub- 
lic, and Marcos in the Philippines to name a few. 

Now the U.S. government was bombing civilians in Vietnam, and 
Zinn felt sure it was not justified by the political claims. Zinn’s 
civil rights allies were increasingly turning against the war, peo- 
ple like Bob Moses, who objected to Johnson s willingness to 
send troops around the world for some cause no one could un- 
derstand, not authorizing troops to protect the rights of citizens 
to vote in America. 

A disproportionate number of soldiers being sent to Vietnam 
were black and the war was becoming the most urgent civil rights 
issue in America. It violated the civil rights of a broad spectrum 
of people, including Americans of all ethnicities and the Viet- 
namese people. The government’s act of sending thousands, and 
eventually millions, of young Americans against their will to fight 
in Southeast Asia became the most pressing issue for young 
Americans. Rebellions broke out on college 
campuses across the country. The issue of the 
Vietnam War united the youth of 
all races against a single 
issue, a single form 
of oppression. 


The U.S. still had a military draft in place from World War II and 
as the Vietnam War escalated, and the Johnson administration’s 
objectives continued to fail, draft calls went up, and more and 
more Americans found themselves ordered to go to Vietnam. 
The American death toll reached 58,000, the number of 
wounded American soldiers was near 304,000, and there were 
millions of Vietnamese casualties. The war reached into the 
homes of Americans; college students, who were of draft age, 
protested the war in greater and greater numbers. Zinn turned 
his attentions, along with many other activists, from civil rights 
to the struggle against the war. The civil rights struggle merged 
with the resistance to an unjust war. 

Zinn plunged in, proud to become 
part of a tradition of Americans resist- 
ing the threat of imprisonment for a 
cause they could not believe in. War re- 
sistance had a history in Amer- 
ica going back to the colonists 
who resisted conscription 
into British wars against 
the French. Zinn shared 
and supported the con- 
victions of the majority 
of young people who 
faced the draft, who believed 
that the war was not worth 
dying for, and was an im- 
moral, unjustified at- 
tack on another 
j(|\country with which 
the American people 
^had no real quarrel. 
His anti-war beliefs 
began to express them- 
selves in his writing and activities. 
Beginning in early 1966, Zinn 
published a number of articles re- 
garding the conflict in Vietnam: 


“Vietnam: Means and Ends,” “Negroes and Vietnam,” and “Viet- 
nam: The Logic of Withdrawal,” which he later developed into a 
book by the same name that sold through eight printings. Zinn 
later named Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal as his second fa- 
vorite of all the books in his whole career, after A People’s His- 
tory of the United States. That year the number of U.S. soldiers 
in Vietnam reached half a million. 

By 1967 attendance at anti-war rallies had grown into the thou- 
sands. In October 1967, Zinn spoke at a rally that five thousand 
people attended, where over two hundred people burned their 
draft cards. It was one of many such demonstrations taking place 
throughout the country. The next day thousands gathered for a 
rally at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington and marched to the 
Pentagon, where they were met by thousands of soldiers. 

While Zinn taught at Boston University, there were many rallies, 
occupations of buildings, and teach-ins that lasted through the 
night. In one incident, a thousand students stood shoulder-to- 
shoulder for five days in a chapel with a deserting soldier, sup- 
porting his right for sanctuary, until federal agents finally forced 
their way through the crowd and seized the soldier. 

Trip to Vietnam 

In January 1968 Zinn got a phone call from David Dellinger, a 
peace activist he had met in Hiroshima the year before. Dellinger 
said he had received a telegram from the North Vietnamese gov- 
ernment offering to release three captive American pilots as a ges- 
ture of peace. The North Vietnamese wanted the peace movement 
to designate a representative to go to Hanoi to meet the pilots 
upon their release. Leaders of the peace movement had chosen 
Zinn and Father Daniel Berrigan, a Catholic priest, antiwar ac- 
tivist and poet, to make the trip. The next day Zinn went to New 
York City and met Berrigan, Dellinger, and Tom Hayden, another 
antiwar leader. During their meeting, a State Department repre- 
sentative came to the door. He claimed that the government 
learned about the arrangement and wanted to endorse the trip, to 
stamp their passports. Without the approval of the government. 


it was illegal to travel to 
North Vietnam and other 
Communist countries. But 
Berrigan and Zinn declined 
to take the government's 
_ endorsement. 

(jj u il The air trip took twenty eight 
hours, with stops in Copenhagen, 
Frankfurt, Teheran, Calcutta, and Bangkok. At every stop a State 
Department representative would get on the plane and offer to 
stamp their passports. They declined each offer. They arrived in Vi- 
entiane, Laos, but going farther was not possible because of the Tet 
offensive, when the Viet Cong burst out of apparent retreat and 
launched a series of surprise attacks all over South Vietnam, even 
occupying the U.S. embassy. After a brief time in Laos, Zinn and 
Berrigan were taken to .1 
Hanoi, but during their ^ ^ 



After five days of air raids, they were finally introduced to the 
prisoners they had come to meet. They met the three pilots, and 
the next day there was a ceremony for their release. The pilots 
were the first prisoners of war to be released by the Vietnamese 
since the U.S. had begun bombing. 

Zinn and Berrigan became friends during their three weeks to- 
gether on the trip. Later Berrigan participated in a protest in 
which he broke into a draft board and poured napalm on draft 
records. He and the other participants were sentenced to three 
years in prison. During the appeal process Berrigan disappeared 
and remained a fugitive for four months with 
Zinn’s assistance on some occasions. 

The Fall of Johnson, the Rise of Nixon 

In 1968 anti-war sentiment was 
so powerful that Johnson had 
to cancel all appearances ex- 
cept at military bases. Then after 
Eugene McCarthy, a practically 
unknown Democrat running on an 
anti-war platform, won 40 percent 
of the vote in the first Democratic pri- 
mary, Johnson announced he would 
not seek re-election. 

Robert F. Kennedy threw 
his hat into the race on an 
anti-war platform and soon 

moved to the head 
of Democratic con- 
tenders, but was assas- 
sinated in Los Angeles on the day 
he won the California primary. In 
the 1968 Democratic convention, 
the party nominated Hubert 
Humphrey, who had been John- 
son’s vice president and would 



not repudiate the actions of the Johnson administration. To anti- 
war activists Humphrey’s nomination was a denial of the anti- 
war fervor that had driven Johnson from office. Even though 
Kennedy had moved into first place on an anti-war platform, the 
party bosses had gone into the proverbial backroom and 
emerged with a candidate who represented the repudiated war 
policies. Thousands demonstrated in the streets of Chicago and 
the Chicago police responded with extreme force, beating and 
jailing many in what an official report later called a “police riot.” 

With the extreme rage against the war at that point, both candi- 
dates promised they would end the war. In the closing days of the 
campaign, Nixon claimed to have “a secret plan” to end it, 
though it was never revealed or referred to once he became pres- 
ident in 1969. Once he took office, he increased the violence in 
Vietnam, expanding the war with bombings in the North, as if his 
secret plan had really been to beat the Vietnamese into submis- 
sion. But violence had not succeeded in bringing the Vietnamese 
to surrender in the past and increasing it did not work for Nixon. 
Meanwhile, he feared the country was becoming ungovernable 
and grew increasingly desperate. 

The Pentagon Papers 

In the early 1970s Zinn found himself once again at the center of 
the cyclone of radical American politics. It began in the late 
1960s when Daniel Ellsberg, a former consultant to the RAND 
Corporation, got hold of a document from the Pentagon called 
United States-Vietnam Relations, 1945-1967: A Study Pre- 
pared by the Department of Defense. It was a 47-volume, 
7,000-page, top-secret Department of Defense history of the 
United States’ involvement in Vietnam, from the beginning and 
told by the perpetrators of the war. Ellsberg sent a copy of the 
document to Howard and Roslyn Zinn, who then enlisted the help 
of Noam Chomsky to form a team to edit and annotate the doc- 
ument for publication. The document was published as “The Pen- 
tagon Papers” in the New York Times beginning June 13, 1971. 
The Pentagon Papers created a huge controversy because they 
revealed that the government purposely misled the American 


people about what 
it was doing in Viet- 
nam. While President 
Johnson was telling the 
1 American people that he 
would not expand the war, 
he was in fact doing just that 
with air strikes in Laos and 
coastal raids of North Vietnam. 

The publication of the documents 
embarrassed and angered the top 
officials of the U.S. government. As- 
sistant Attorney General William Rehn- 
quist (later promoted to Chief Justice by 
Nixon) tried to stop the documents from 
being published through injunctions. To Nixon, it was a case of 
spying, treason, the stealing of state secrets — a replay of the case 
of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were executed in 1953 for 
giving nuclear secrets to the Soviets. According to Nixon’s rea- 
soning, Ellsberg was a traitor who should be put to death. 
Howard and Roslyn Zinn and Chomsky would have been his ac- 
complices, according to that reasoning, and so would the New 
York Times. But rather than giving military secrets to an enemy 
country during war, the Pentagon 
Papers were released to the Amer- 
ican people, those who were being 
lied to, improperly, according to 
Ellsberg, Zinn, and Chomsky. The 
case went to the Supreme Court 
and was so controversial that each 
of the nine justices wrote a sepa- 
rate opinion. 

The publication of the Pentagon Papers 
so enraged Nixon that he lost all sense of 
proportion in his quest for revenge. He 
wanted to make an example out of Ellsberg, 
to destroy him and intimidate all would-be 

whistle blowers. He arranged for some of his hirelings break into 
the office of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist in search of information he could 
use to smear Ellsberg. Nixon’s burglars, led by ex-CIA agent E. 
Howard Hunt, were called “the Plumbers;” it was their job to stop 
leaks. The Plumbers got away with that break in, but they were not 
so lucky when they went on to break into the Democratic Party 
headquarters in the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C. As the in- 
vestigation of the crime closed in on Richard Nixon, it set up a se- 
ries of events that forced Nixon, who had won by a large majority, 
to step down from office. The publishing of Pentagon Papers turned 
out to be a significant factor in Nixon’s resignation. 

Ellsberg was charged with theft, conspiracy, and espi- 
onage for taking the document. Zinn was called as an 
expert witness by the defense. He discussed the his- 
tory of Vietnam for several hours on the stand. He ex- 
plained that the information in the Pentagon Papers 
could not be used to harm the United 
States. Rather, its significance was 
to show how the government had 
systematically lied to the American 
people, arguably a crime itself, or 
at least an abuse of power. A fed- 
eral judge dismissed the case, 
saying it had been tainted by 
Nixon’s burglary of Ellsberg’s 
psychiatrist’s office. 


End of the Vietnam War 

In early 1973, after four years of negotiation in Paris, the U.S. 
government signed a treaty with the government of North Viet- 
nam agreeing to withdraw. The war continued between the gov- 
ernment of Hanoi in the North and what remained of the colonial 
government of Saigon, with the U.S. continuing to give military 
aid to Saigon. Finally in early 1975, the government of South 
Vietnam collapsed and the war was over. Vietnam was united as 
a single republic. 

A People's History 

In 1980 Zinn published A People's History of the United States , 
a book that changed his life, become his most important work 
and changed the way history was conceptualized for millions of 
people. Zinn says that the book took twenty years from concep- 
tion of its fundamental ideas to publication. The actual writing 
took less than a year to complete. He wrote People’s History, 
he said, because the political activist movements of the 1960s 
had led to an evolution in consciousness, a transformation of how 
people saw the world, and the old histories were not adequate to 
speak to that new frame of mind. People wanted histories that 
showed how working people, Indians, slaves and women lived. 
None of the existing histories did that, so 
he set out to provide the book himself. 

“I wanted to tell the story of Ameri- 
can history from the standpoint of 
women, Black people, Indians, of 
working people and of radicals and 
protesters,” he told Revolutionary 

Worker in 1998. “As soon as I made that decision, it was dear 
this was going to be a different kind of history. And I have no 
doubt that the reason my book has reached so many people — to 
my surprise, actually, and certainly to the surprise of the pub- 
lisher — is that people who read it were suddenly struck by the fact 
that 1 was telling American history from a very different view- 
point.” The book has sold about 100,000 copies per year since 
publication, nearly two million A 

copies as of this writing. v \ / 1 j 

During Zinn’s tenure at Boston University, he worked as a visiting 
professor at the University of Paris during the years 1974, 1978, 
and 1984. In 1988, after twenty-four years as a political science 
teacher at Boston University, Zinn retired from the university to 
devote himself full time to writing, speaking, activism, and other 


A Lotta 


IN UtR&. 

tells his 

teacher that the book People’s History of the United States “will 
knock you on your ass.” Damon, in fact, knew Zinn since he was 
five years old. They were next door neighbors in South Boston. 

Years later Zinn and Damon became partners, along with 

Ben Affleck and Chris Moore, as executive produc- /Xtt**4L 

ers of a project to make a miniseries out of Peo- 

pie’s History of the United States. The idea ^pt S- 

was to film certain sequences from the £ £ ' 1 

book. Though the project has been dis- 

cussed with News Corporation (the par- V jp* 

ent company of Fox) and HBO, both 

have dropped negotiations and the 

film has yet to be produced. w&Tjf i 

Zinn on Iraq VewL fft|8nE 

In keeping with his anti-war /ft I 

stance, Zinn opposed the inva- 

sion and occupation of Iraq . 

by the Bush administration ' % . 

in 2003. But his opposition ^ _. nri r 

related proj- 
ects. He be- 
came more 
prolific than 
ever before. 

Zinn in the 


was not just to the occupation of Iraq. He saw the matter as much 
more serious. In The Guardian in August 2005, he wrote, “More 
ominous, perhaps, than the occupation of Iraq is the occupation 
of the U.S. I wake up in the morning, read the newspaper, and feel 
that we are an occupied country, that some alien group has taken 
over. I wake up thinking: the U.S. is in the grip of a president sur- 
rounded by thugs in suits who care nothing about human life 
abroad or here, who care nothing about freedom abroad or here, 
who care nothing about what happens to the earth, the water, or 
the air, or what kind of world will be inherited by our children and 


The statement went on to ask twelve specific questions about 
the incident, including the following: 

Why were standard operating procedures for dealing with hijacked 
airiiners not followed that day? Why were the extensive missile bat- 
teries and air defenses reported /y deployed around the Pentagon 
not activated during the attack? Why did the Secret Service allow 
Bush to complete his elementary school visit , apparently uncon- 
cerned about his safety or that of the schoolchildren? Why hasn't a 
single person been fired, penalized , or reprimanded for the gross in- 
competence we witnessed that day? Why haven't authorities in the 
U.S. and abroad published the results of multiple investigations 
into trading that strongly suggested foreknowledge of specific de- 
tails of the 9/11 attacks T resulting in tens of millions of dollars of 


(v\ l 

traceable gains? How could Flight 77, which 
reportedly hit the Pentagon , have flown back 
toward Washington , D.C. for 40 minutes 
without being detected by the FAA's radar 
) or the even superior radar possessed by the 
US military? 

In this matter there is a divergence be- 
ffifagw tween Zinn the historian and seeker 
of justice and Zinn the activist. He 
does not believe the government s 
story on the subject, but as an ac- 
-Jf tivist he is a pragmatist and is 
wary of expending much time try- 
ing to figure out what happened 
that day. In 2008, he told this author 
that “it’s one of those controversies 
that leads nowhere, is a diversion from 
what needs to be done. Whatever happened 
on 9/1 1 , and that is not clear, what is clear 
is that the Bush Administration used 9/11 
as an excuse to go to war and throw 
the country into fear and take ab- 
solute power in the government and 
destroy the Constitution. That is 
what we should be concentrating 
our energy on, and not engaging in 
J- a fruitless, endless argument about 

* what really happened on 9/11.” 


Zinn on Bush 

In October 2004, an interviewer for Guernica magazine asked 
Zinn how important he thought the 2004 election was between 
Kerry and Bush, and he said, “It’s very important — because we 
are in the thrall of a very dangerous regime, more dangerous 
than any presidency I can remember. Kind of a runaway group 
of people who seem not to care about the opinions of the rest of 
the world, not to care either about the majority of Americans 
who now oppose the war. They have their own agenda and they 
are trying to take total power. I mean, here’s a president who 
gets 47 or 48 percent of the vote — loses the popular vote, in 
fact, to his opponent — and takes 100 percent of the power as 
soon as he takes office, as if he had a mandate. He didn’t have 
a mandate from the American people. He snuck into the presi- 
dency with the aid of political cronies, his father’s having ap- 
pointed members of the Supreme Court, his brother governor of 
Florida. And then he takes total control.” 

Zinn told Robert Birnbaum (at in 2001, 
“Here the guy wins the presidency by the most nefarious of 
methods and without a popular mandate. Losing a popular vote 
by a larger margin than Hayes lost the popular vote in 1876, 
but then moves ahead with aplomb, with total arrogance as if 
the country is his. My feeling is that we are living in an occupied 
country. Really, that we’ve been taken over, a junta has taken 
power and now the problem for the American people is to do 
what people do in an occupied country.” 

The Zinn Vision 

In 1998 Revolutionary Worker interviewed Zinn and asked him 
what his vision would be for a different kind of world. He an- 
swered that it is “a vision of the world in which powerful corpo- 
rations did not dominate the economy... in which economic 
enterprises were controlled by the people who worked in them... 
and in which the rights of workers and consumers were repre- 
sented in the decision-making bodies. It would be a world in 
which we had a kind of grass-roots democracy that existed in the 


Paris Commune in 1871... constant participation... meetings of 
people all over, where people’s political participation wasn’t con- 
fined to voting every two years or every four years, to choosing 
between two miserable possibilities... a kind of grass-roots par- 
ticipation and decision-making at every possible level. Those are 
not easy to achieve in very complicated, large-scale societies. But 
I think it is certainly possible to have infinitely more political 

democracy than we have today. And the 
object would be to really equalize the con- 
ditions of people in the world, to use the 
enormous wealth that exists in this world 
to feed people, to take care of their chil- 
dren. Everybody should be assured of fun- 
damental things of life — everybody should 
be assured of a place to live, enough 
food, of care for their children, and 
everybody should be assured of 
health care without worrying 
about bills, or forms, or signa- 
tures. And we need a breaking 
down of national barriers — a 
world without passports and 
visas, where people are free to 
move in the way corporations 
are now free to move across 
national boundaries. Obviously 
this is a vision hard to contem- 
plate. But I think that unless 
you have such a vision, you are 
not in a position to evaluate 
what is going on day to day.” 

Zinn's Hope for America's Future 

In April 2008, during the primary season of the presidential elec- 
tion, Wajahat Ali interviewed Zinn for, and 
asked him if he had any hope for America’s future. Zinn an- 
swered, “The present situation for the U.S. looks grim, but I am 


hopeful, as I see the American people 
waking up and being overwhelmingly 
opposed to this war and to the Bush 
V regime, as I reflect on movements in 
history and how they arose surpris- 
ingly when they seemed defeated. I 
believe the American people 
have the capacity to create a 
new movement, which would 
change the direction of our nation 
from being a military power to 
being a peaceful nation, using 
our enormous wealth for human 
needs, here and abroad.” 

Zinn on Obama, FDR, and Lincoln 

Zinn has said that his favorite president is Franklin D. Roosevelt 
because he responded to the economic crisis of the 1930s and 
to the protests with a sensitivity that is rare among presidents. 
He also has written that FDR did not go far enough in his reform 
of the system. He has said that although Lincoln was a politician 
first, and did not come into office or conduct the war based on 
ending slavery, he did in the end become an important force in 
that cause. The abolitionist Wendell Phillips had been critical of 
Lincoln’s cautiousness in regard to the abolition of slavery, but 
nevertheless saw great possibilities in Lincoln’s election. Though 
Lincoln was not himself an abolitionist, Phillips said, he had the 
potential, if the people acted vigorously, to be transformed like 
a pawn on a chessboard that becomes a queen, to “sweep the 
board.” He speaks of Obama in similar terms. Near the end of 
the campaign, Zinn endorsed Obama’s candidacy. 

“Obama, like Lincoln, tends to look first at his political fortunes 
instead of making his decisions on moral grounds,” wrote Zinn 
at after the 2008 election, “But, as the first 
African American in the White House, elected by an enthusias- 
tic citizenry which expects a decisive move towards peace and 
social justice, he presents a possibility for important change.” 


Obama can reach his potential to be a great president, Zinn says, 
if he creates a radical turnaround from the militaristic foreign pol- 
icy that has ruled during the Bush years, and too often in Amer- 
ican history. If Obama can effect such a turnaround, show the 
world that the U.S. is a peace-seeking nation 
and negotiate with other world leaders to re- 
duce military stockpiles, billions of dollars can 
be freed up to improve the lives of people. 
Obama should emulate FDR and give Amer- 
ica a new New Deal, said Zinn. 

Lone Traveler 

Roslyn Zinn died May 14, 2008, of cancer. 
She was eighty-five. In her last twenty 
years, she retired from her work as a 
teacher and social worker to become a 
painter, producing many fig- 
urative paintings, land- 
scapes and still lifes. 
After she found out 


she had cancer, she spent the summer doing a lot of swimming 
and said it was the best summer of her life. She and Howard 
were married sixty-four years. She was involved in editing all of 
his books and many of his articles. 

In the introduction to “Painting Life,” a collection of Roslyn Zinn’s 
work that was published in 2007 she wrote: “After years as a 
teacher and social worker, I turned seriously to painting, which 
throughout my life had sparked and enlivened my spirit,” Ms. 
Zinn wrote in a brief a few months after she was diagnosed with 
ovarian cancer. “What I see in the world, so burdened and trou- 
bled, and yet beautiful in nature and in the human form, impels 
me to seek to create images that give the possibility of hope.” 

Failure to Quit 

Zinn continues to be active in politics, writing articles, giving in- 
terviews, and speaking at events. Now in his eighties he is still a 
vital voice for the causes he has stood for his entire life. 

Asked where he got the courage to take stands throughout his 
life as both a historian and an activist, he told Harry Kreisler, 
“It’s not a courage to me, it’s a sad commentary, that we think it 
requires a lot of courage just to speak your mind. I’m not going 
to be executed. I’m not even going to be given a long jail sen- 
tence. I may be thrown into jail for a day or two, and that has 
happened to me eight to nine times. I may be fired, I may get a 
salary decrease, but these are pitiful things compared to what 
happens to people in the world. So it doesn’t take much courage 
to do that. I had two friends, my closest friends in the Air Force, 
both of whom were killed in the last weeks of the war, and I think 
after you’ve been through a war experience, and after you’ve 
been aware of people dying, and somebody says, ‘Are you will- 
ing to risk your job? Are you willing to risk a salary cut? Are you 
willing to risk that you won’t get tenure?’ — these are pitiful risks 
compared to the risks that people have taken in the world.” 

Asked in 2008 what strategy he envisions for restoring demo- 
cratic power to a country then still under the control of the very 
anti-democratic Bush regime, he told this author, “There are no 


magic formulas, no startling new tactics. It’s a matter of persist- 
ing and expanding whatever we have been doing — and truth is, 
it’s working. More and more people see the futility of war, more 
and more people see that our economic system is both ineffi- 
cient and unjust, and we have to keep eroding the supports for 
the system until it crumbles. It takes persistence and patience 
and confidence that if we just continue small and seemingly 
meaningless and undramatic efforts, change will come.” 

Zinn:The Work 

A People's History of the United States 

A People's History of the United States , published in 1980, is 
Zinn’s magnum opus, his major, essential work. It provides the 
perspective through which his career and his legacy can best be 
understood. In a sense, to know People’s History is to know 
Zinn. In this 650 -page volume, written during less than a year of 
intense productivity, Zinn laid out a new paradigm that was to re- 
define history, and to create a new model for what would be- 
come a new alternative history. It is not only Zinn’s principle 
work; it is one of the most influential books on history and pol- 
itics of its time. It therefore deserves special attention in any dis- 
cussion of Zinn and his work. 

As its name implies, it is a history from the point of view of the 
working people, the people of the class Zinn himself was a mem- 
ber of, not from the point of view of the rulers, conquerors and 
masters from whose point of view history is traditionally pre- 
sented. This is the story of America from point of view of the vast 
majority, those who have the least to gain from the exploits and 
adventures of the masters and inevitably bear the brunt of them. 

People's History focuses specifically on the struggles of working 
people in a rapidly expanding capitalist industrial system. It 
maintains a tight focus on its theme, which is what enables the 
book to plow through five hundred years of history in only 650 
pages and still create a vivid story. At the same time, it leaves out 
vast areas of the history, including many events that are ex- 
tremely well known. Zinn recognizes no need to be comprehen- 

People's History is iconoclastic, knocking the traditional cele- 
brated figures from their pinnacles and exposing all their human 
weaknesses, their greed, selfishness, brutality, hypocrisy, dishon- 
esty, ambition, and cruelty. Zinn shows an unpalatable truth: His- 
tory is not pretty. Some call the book revisionist history, and it may 
be seen as an altered vision of the past, leading to an altered vision 
of the present and of the possibilities of the future. Peopled His- 
tory creates a basis for building a new, more realistic history. 


The book is jarring to Americans because, as New York Times 
reviewer Eric Foner said, it is “a reshuffling of heroes and vil- 
lains.” A historian himself and professor of history at Columbia 
University, Foner said the book “bears the same relationship to 
traditional history as a photographic negative does to a print: 
The areas of darkness and light have been reversed.” Foner, and 
other reviewers, praised Zinn’s ability to choose quotations that 
vividly portrayed and dramatized the story. But Foner also criti- 
cized the book, saying that the approach was limited, that the 
groups it focuses on-blacks, Indians, women and laborers-“ap- 
pear either as rebels or victims” and “less dramatic but more 
typical lives — people struggling to survive with dignity in difficult 
circumstances — receive little attention.” Foner called the book, 
“a deeply pessimistic vision of the American experience,” but at 
the same time said it should be “required reading for a new gen- 
eration of students now facing conscription.” 

A review in the Library Journal called People’s History “an ex- 
cellent antidote to establishment history” that tells the story 
“from the point of view of those who have been exploited polit- 
ically and economically and whose plight has been largely omit- 
ted from most histories.” 


Tiie book lias sold nearly two million copies, making it one of the 
most popular history books of all time* It has been updated a few 
times since its original publication in 1980 and its recent editions 
cover the period from Columbus’s discovery of the New World 
through 9/11 and what George W. Bush called “The War on Ter- 
ror” (which Zinn generously corrects to “War on Terrorism”)* 

A People's History of the United States has spawned many off- 
spring, many written by Zinn himself, and others written by other 
authors* Zinn wrote A Young Peoples History of the United 
States, as well as A Peoples History of American Empire , 
which is a graphic novel/comic book telling of the story. With 
David Williams, Zinn wrote A Peoples History of the Civil War: 
Struggles for the Meaning of Freedom . There is The Twentieth 
Century: A People's History and Voices of a People's History 
of the United States, which is a sort of documentary history, 
telling the story through first-hand accounts, journal entries, 
speeches, personal letters, and published opinion pieces. With 
Vijay Prashad he wrote Darker Nations: A Peoples History of 
the Third World . Other authors have taken up the theme with 
People s Histories of the world, the American Revolution, sports, 
the Supreme Court, science, and poverty. Following is a brief 
summary and discussion of Zinn s view of American history as it 
is presented in A People's History. 

Columbus's Discovery of the New World 

The book begins like a nuclear explosion obliterating the foun- 
dation of the standard view of traditional history textbooks, fo- 
cusing first on Columbus’s discovery of America, a new world 
for the European empires to plunder. Zinn s story of Columbus 
is stripped of the romantic trappings traditionally taught to 
schoolchildren. In textbooks Columbus is a courageous explorer 
who sailed beyond the point that most people thought was the 
end of the earth and discovered a new world, a new settlement 
thal would become the land of the free and the home of the 
brave, the birthplace of democracy, equality, and freedom of 
the individual. 


Zinn, however, looks at the historic record with the 
cold hard stare of a journalist who follows the 
creed: “If your mother says she loves you, check it 't 
out.” Zinn departs from the customary nationalis- 
tic bias and tells the story not as “the discovery 
of the New World” by the only civilization that \ 
mattered, but as the invasion of the 
Americas by Europeans. x 

Zinn went to the source, to Colum- 
bus’s own journals, letters, and 
reports, and the writings of ^ 

Bartolome de las Casas, a A jt^§j 

young priest who partici- | 

pated in Columbus’s con- 

quest of Cuba and spent 

forty years on Hispaniola \ i 

and surrounding islands. In 

these records we see a very vJuHHBi 

different Columbus than /J 
the one we learned of in 1/ 
elementary school. fl/'! ^ 

Zinn acknowledges that Columbus was a skilled nav- 
igator who, like other informed people of his 
yfjv time, knew the earth was round. But he also 
*| gfg K shows that Columbus was an extremely bru- 
man on a single-minded quest for gold for 
i^BlF his patrons, King Fernando and Queen Is- 
piq abella of Spain. They had financed his trip, 
®J 7 anc * they didn’t do ‘t ^ or the glory of explo- 
4W ration. They wanted gold and other bounty, 
in Columbus thought he would land in Asia and 
ili the Indies islands and promised his benefactors 
'-*1 he would bring them gold, silk, and spices. 


Though he did not yet understand the implications of the fact that 
he had disembarked in a land unknown to Europe, he was de- 
termined to make good on his promises. 

The first people Columbus en- 
countered when he landed in 
the islands now known as the 
Bahamas were the Arawak 
people. Columbus found them 
remarkable, not only in their 
physical beauty and the har- 
mony of their social lives, but 
for their hospitality and gen- 
erosity. He wrote admiringly of 
them. “They are the best peo- 
ple in the world, and above all 
the gentlest-without knowledge 
of what is evil-nor do they mur- 
der or steal ... they love their 
neighbors as themselves and 
they have the sweetest talk in 
the world ... always laughing ... 

They willingly traded every- 
thing they owned ... They were 
well-built, with good bodies and 
handsome features ... They do 
not bear arms, and do 
know of them, for I showed them a sword, they took it and cut 
themselves out of ignorance.” Unfortunately for the Arawaks, 
Columbus did not mirror their generosity of spirit. He saw great 
opportunity to enrich his patrons in Spain. The Arawaks, he 
wrote, “would make fine servants. With fifty men we could sub- 
jugate them all and make them do whatever we want.” 

Columbus was a man of business. He had persuaded Queen Is- 
abella of Spain to invest in his expedition on the basis of the 
great riches he would bring her from the Far East. Though he ad- 
mired and liked the natives, he was under pressure to return with 
treasure from this land. Spain was one of the great nation states 


forming in Europe, and gold was an international currency. Fer- 
nando and Isabella agreed to give Columbus, who had been a 
merchant’s clerk in the city of Genoa, Italy, 10 percent of his 
profits, governorship of the lands he discovered, and the title 
Admiral of the Ocean Sea. 

Columbus took back glowing, exaggerated reports of what he 
found and was in turn outfitted by the King with seventeen ships 
and 1,200 men with the mission of bringing back slaves and gold. 
It was the beginning of a nightmarish reign of terror for the native 
people. Within two years, half of the island’s 250,000 Indians were 
dead. Columbus, who considered himself a devout Catholic, wrote, 
“Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves 
that can be sold.” By 1515 there were only 50,000 Arawaks sur- 
viving; by 1550 there were five hundred; and by 1650 none of the 
original Arawaks or their descendants had survived. 

Columbus set up 340 gallows on the island and set 
quotas for the natives for how much gold to bring 
him. If they fell short, their arms were hacked off. 
Those who fled were hunted down with hounds. 
Thousands took cassava poison to kill themselves. 

The brutality of the Spanish conquerors extended be 
yond the acquisition of wealth to sadism for 
its own sake. Bartolome de las Casas 
wrote of Spanish soldiers stabbing Indi- 
ans for sport and crashing babies’ heads 
on stones. His reports are corroborated 
by other witnesses. The Spanish reached 
the point where they refused to walk any 
distance, preferring to ride on the back 
of a native, or to be carried by 
servants on hammocks. He 
wrote that they “thought 
nothing” of knifing the na- 
tive people by the tens and 
twenties or “cutting slices of 
them to test the sharpness 
of their blades.” 


Columbus was followed by many other conquerors from Europe, 
who exploited and slaughtered the native people of the Ameri- 
cas in the same manner: Cortes with the Aztecs of Mexico, 
Pizarro with the Incas of Peru, and the English settlers of Vir- 
ginia and Massachusetts with the Powhatans and the Pequots. 

Establishing an Alternative View 

After blowing away the images of Columbus as a noble and 
benevolent hero, Zinn pauses to state very clearly why his ver- 
sion of history is so different. History textbooks tell the story of 
Columbus without the violence and greed, celebrating Columbus 
as a hero. A few historians mentioned the slaughter of the na- 
tives, even going so far in the case of Harvard historian Samuel 
Eliot Morison as to call it genocide, but still passing over it as 
a minor note, a single page in a multi-volume history. 

Even though he acknowledges that Columbus’s policies led to 
“complete genocide,” Morison, whom Zinn calls “the 
most distinguished writer on Columbus,” glosses 
over the ethical problem in favor of portraying 
Columbus as a hero. “He had his faults and de- 
fects,” wrote Morison, “but they were largely 
the defects of the qualities that made him 
great — his indomitable will, his superb faith 
in God, his own mission as the Christ- 
bearer to lands beyond the seas...” As 
Zinn points out, this “Christ bearer” was 
a mass murderer. 

The problem with this traditional 
telling of history, Zinn said, is that it 
sends a message that slaughter l 
of innocents is a necessary 
and acceptable part of 
human progress, and it 
condones the same behav- 
ior today. 



After presenting such a jarring image of Columbus, Zinn s history 
continues to shatter one image after another. If Columbus was 
not the noble hero that we have been told about, what of the 
greatly revered founders of the United States? Indeed, Zinn’s por- 
trayal of them is a shocking departure from the familiar stories. 

Slavery and Racism 

After the establishment of the North American colonies, the con- 
quest of the New World gathered momentum and ushered in the 
colonial era, driven by a frenzied drive for wealth by the nation 
states of Europe and the rise of a new capitalist economic order. 
In that economic system slavery became a driving force and one of 
the largest industries in the world. Slavery was an international 
phenomenon, but there was no country, Zinn wrote, where racism 
was more important for as long a time as the United States. It is 
important, then, to look very closely at how racism began, and 
hopefully gain some insight into how it might finally be left behind. 

The slave trade actually began fifty years before Columbus’s voy- 
age, when Portuguese traders brought ten Africans to Lisbon to 
be sold in bondage. In 1619 a Dutch-flagged 
ship pulled into the colony of 
Jamestown, Virginia, then only a 
dozen years old, with twenty 

There was a great need for 
labor in the New World. 
It was extremely diffi- 
cult for Europeans 
transplanted into 
the wilderness to 
even survive. Cre- 
ating a viable colo- 
nial system that 
could be profitable 
to its sponsors in 
Europe required a 



huge amount of labor. The colonists tried enslaving the native pop- 
ulation. But that was difficult because the Indians were in their own 
homeland and far better adapted to survive there than the Euro- 
peans. Poor whites were enslaved through indentured servitude, 
which was at its worst a form of forced labor little better than slav- 
ery. But if whites escaped, they could easier blend into the popu- 
lation than blacks, who were marked by their skin color. And they 
were still in their native culture. Black Africans could be ripped 
from their cultures and social support systems and thrust into a 
world in which they had virtually nothing to hold on to. That made 
them easier to enslave. 

The class system of England was imported more or less intact to 
America. Colonial aristocrats were in positions of authority and 
wealth through appointments and land grants from the English 
crown. In fact, with survival so difficult in the New World, class 
lines actually hardened. The extreme difference between the few 
who had great riches and many who lived from day to day in a bit- 
ter struggle for survival created resentments. There were many re- 
bellions and the landholders needed to find ways to protect 
themselves from the unruly masses. It was in the interest of the 
aristocracy to keep the lower classes divided so the poor people 
would not be able to realize the power they could have if they com- 
bined their energies and revolted against the minority in control. 

With Indian hostility and slave revolts to contend with, the aris- 
tocrats needed to assuage the resentment of poor whites. In what 
was known as Bacon’s Rebellion in Virginia, poor whites and 
blacks joined forces against the aristocracy. That put fear into 
the aristocracy of how badly they could be outnumbered and 
overrun if blacks and whites joined forces against them. 

So the aristocracy intentionally fostered division among blacks, 
Indians, and poor whites by granting a few rights and privileges to 
poor whites, but still keeping them poor enough that that they 
would fear displacement by the even poorer and more unfortu- 
nate blacks. After Bacon’s Rebellion, amnesty was given to whites 
who had rebelled, but not to blacks. White servants were allowed 
to join the Virginia militia in place of white freemen. And slave 
patrols were assembled, paying poor whites to police the slaves. 


Revolutionary Fervor in America 

The colonies in the New World were fraught with rebellions. 
There were eighteen uprisings against the colonial government 
in Virginia. By 1776 a group of the aristocratic English colonists 
came up with the idea of creating a nation. Through this device, 
Zinn writes, “they could take over land, profits, and political 
power from favorites of the British Empire. In the process they 
could hold back a number of potential rebellions and create a 
consensus of popular support for the rule of a new, privileged 
leadership.” The founders, “created the most effective system of 
national control devised in modern times.” 

Britain needed money to pay off its war debts after its Seven 
Years War (French and Indian War), so it raised taxes on the 
colonies. As the colonies became more prosperous, the wealthy 


farmers began to feel they could 
function better without having 
England on their backs, taxing 
them and forcing them to sell all 
their produce to England at prices 
set by England. They began to en- 
vision an independent nation. 

The colonists who joined together to create the new nation were 
the richest landowners of the colonies. Many, like Washington 
and Jefferson, were also slaveholders. A tiny minority of 
colonists had almost all the money and land. Land holdings 
granted by the British Crown had dubious legitimacy because 
the land was, after all, taken from the native people, usually by 
force or trickery. Class resentment was strong and often erupted 
in violence against the wealthy establishment. 

The colonial aristocracy wanted to divert the class resentment 
away from themselves and toward the British government. They 
also needed to enlist the help of the common people if they had 
any hope of resisting the British military. 



In order to establish their own rule, 
the aristocrats needed to grant 
some concessions to the middle 
class at the expense of those below 
them in social rank, including poor 
whites, blacks, and Indians. They 
used the language of equality of 
writers like Thomas Paine, bor- 
rowing from works of Enlighten- 
ment writers like John Stuart 
Mill and John Locke, and 
promises of some limited 
land or monetary re- 
wards to entice the 
lower and middle 
classes to support 
them against England 
without having to grant 
them real equality. 

They planned a government that would 
grant some limited rights to common peo- 
ple-a little more than they would get under 

British dominion and thereby enlist their 

support. Their idea was to form a republic, not 
a democracy. When they said “all men are 
created equal,” they referred to the 
landed gentry like themselves. Those 
without property were not to be allowed 
to vote. Women did not even deserve a 
mention. At that time under English 
law they were considered property, as 
were, of course, slaves. 


Cheating the Indians 

The newly formed American republic wanted to 
expand westward and saw the Native Americans 
as an obstacle, so the government devised var- 
ious ways of getting them out of the way, re- 
lying primarily on trickery, broken promises, 
massacre, and germ warfare. 

In 1790 there were 3,900,000 colonial 
European Americans, most living within 
fifty miles of the coast. By 1 830 there were thirteen million, and 
by 1840, over four million had moved on beyond the Ap- 
palachian Mountains into the Mississippi River Valley. In 1820, 
120,000 Native Americans lived east of the Mississippi River; 
twenty-two years later in 1844, only 30,000 were left. The 
colonists continued to push westward, creating much conflict 
with the native inhabitants, so President Jefferson committed the 
government to policies of Indian Removal. The government 
wanted to open the continent for agriculture and manufacturing 
for the markets of a developing capitalist economic system. 


Treaties were routinely ignored. Though the Chickasaw Indians 
had fought on the side of the colonists against the British during 
the revolution, and a treaty had been signed guaranteeing them 
the ownership of that land, after the Revolution much of their 
land in North Carolina was put up for sale by the government. 

A state surveyor named John Donelson ended up in pos- 

8 acres in Tennessee. His son-in- 

ew Jackson, a land speculator, 
t, and slave trader, whom Zinn 
» “the most aggressive enemy of 
e Indians in early American his- 
tory.” Jackson emerged as a 
hero in the War of 1812, which 
Zinn points out, was not just a 
defense against Britain for 
survival of the new nation, as 
the story is told, but was also 
a struggle to expand the new 
nation into Florida, Canada, 
and Indian territory. 



Jackson won recognition as a hero when he fought the Battle of 
Horseshoe Bend in 1814 against the Creek Indians. Though his 
troops had failed in a frontal attack against the Creeks, Jackson 
enlisted the help of Cherokee Indians by promising them good 
treatment by the government if they helped him. The Cherokees 
swam the river, attacked the Creeks from behind, and defeated 
them for Jackson. Jackson and his friends bought up the land 
seized from the Creeks. Jackson was appointed treaty commis- 
sioner, which gave him the power to make treaties with the In- 
dians, and he created aggressive treaties to seize Indian lands, 
push them out, and turn their lands into farms. 

In 1814 Jackson tried a new tactic for dealing with Indians, 
granting them individual ownership of land, which broke up the 
communal landholding practices of the Indians, put them in com- 
petition with each other, and led to the shattering of their cul- 
ture. Jackson used the conflicts with the Seminole Indians as a 

pretext for invading Florida, which was at that time claimed by 
the Spanish. He claimed it was a sanctuary for escaped slaves 
and marauding Indians, so he led raids across the border, burned 
Indian villages, and attacked Spanish forts, eventually forcing 
Spain to “sell” the territory, of which Jackson then became gov- 
ernor. He was elected president in 1828. 

of the Mississippi were forced westward. The actions against the 
Indians were many and varied. States passed laws that made 
tribal meetings illegal, took away the legal status of the tribe and 
the authority of the chief, subjected them to taxes and military 
duty, but did not give them rights to vote or participate in court 
proceedings. They could stay if they wanted to endure harass- 
ment, the breakup of their civilization, and treatment as a sub- 
human species. 

The movement of whites was seen as the progress of civilization. 
The Indians were seen as a barbarous people who could not live 
in contact with civilization and whose extinction was inevitable. 
Each time the Indians were uprooted, they would be given 
solemn promises that they would finally have a permanent home 
never to be molested again. But the promises were soon forgot- 
ten. According to historian Dale Van Every, before 1832 there 
is no recorded instance of a treaty that was not broken by the 
whites. Within a few days of the signing of the Treaty of Wash- 
ington in 1832, whites invaded the newly designated Creek ter- 
ritory and the federal government did nothing about it, instead 
offering a new treaty to move the Creeks farther west. 

Manifest Destiny 

The idea of expanding the country to the Pacific Ocean took hold 
in the minds of many Americans and the push began to expand 
westward to California. Jefferson arranged the Louisiana Pur- 
chase from France, which doubled the size of the U.S. Then the 
government set its focus on Mexico, which held much of the ter- 
ritory between the Louisiana Purchase and the Pacific Ocean. 
Mexico had won its independence from Spain in a revolutionary 
war in 1821. Its territory included Texas and the territory that is 
now New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, California, and part of 

Some Texans, with support of the U.S. government, had declared 
themselves independent of Mexico. In 1845 Congress declared 
Texas a state. When President James K. Polk took office, he told 
his Secretary of the Navy that taking control of California was 


Abraham Lincoln was elected to Congress in 1 846 with the war 
already in progress. Lincoln opposed the war and introduced a 
“spot resolution” in which he challenged Polk to say on which 
spot the incident had occurred. But he would not go so far as to 
vote against the appropriations of men and supplies for the war. 


War fervor grew, rallies 
in support of the war 
took place in major 
cities, and thousands 
rushed to volunteer as 
soldiers. Opposition to 
the war also took shape. 

Abolitionists opposed 
the war. The American 
Anti-Slavery Society ob- 
jected that the war was 
being waged to extend 
slavery into the soon-to- 
be-annexed territory of 
Mexico. The poet James 
Russell Lowell wrote 
poems against the war 
for the Boston Courier 
and they became known 
as the Biglow Papers. 

Henry David Thoreau 
refused to pay his poll 
tax as a protest against 
the war and was put in 
jail for one night. But his 
friends paid the tax and he was released. Two years later he sum- 
marized his beliefs on noncompliance with unjust laws in an 
essay called “Civil Disobedience.” Ralph Waldo Emerson also 
wrote against the war, as did Frederick Douglass, the former 
slave. Irish workers in New York, Boston, and Lowell, Massa- 
chusetts, demonstrated against the war. 

People enlisted in the army for money and social advancement. 
Half of the army was made up of immigrants, mostly from Ger- 
many and Ireland. Many reported being tricked into signing up 
while under the influence of alcohol, or false promises. The patri- 
otic fervor whipped up to launch the war soon faded. Meanwhile 
the killing, robbing, raping, and pillaging of war raged on as 
American armies marched across Mexican territory to the Pacific 


Ocean and claimed California for the United States. In a war be- 
tween U S. elites and Mexican elites, soldiers were being killed by 
their enemies and even by men on their own side. Battles were 
fought with no military objective, and thus civilians, women, and 
children were killed in great numbers. Volunteers rebelled and 
nine thousand of them deserted. Fi- 
nally Mexico surrendered and the U.S. 
took half its territory. 

The Battle 
Over Slavery 

Slaves did not submit willingly to their bondage and forced labor. 
Slaveholders had an ongoing problem trying to maintain con- 
trol, keep hold of the slaves, and make them work. The problems 
got worse as the black community became more and more de- 
termined to achieve freedom. 

By 1 860 the south was producing a million tons of cotton each 
year and there were four million slaves, up from 500,000 only 
seventy years before. The control of the slave population was 
achieved mostly due to harshly brutal treatment bolstered by 


laws, courts, the military, and the racial prejudice entrenched in 
society. But the system was inherently vulnerable to the resist- 
ance of a freedom-seeking people as well as non-slaves who rec- 
ognized the injustice of slavery. 

Families were torn apart. Slaves were whipped, beaten, and 
worked hard, but there was always the possibility of escape, dis- 
obedience, or outright rebellion. Rebellion took place on many 
levels, from small acts of defiance, to some noteworthy large- 
scale rebellions. In New Orleans in 1811, four to five hundred 
slaves gathered at the plantation of a Major Andry armed with 
cane knives, axes, and clubs. They wounded Andry and killed 
his son, then went on a rampage from plantation to plantation, 
gathering more supporters as they went. The U.S. army and 
militia forces went after them, killed sixty-six on the scene, and 
tried sixteen before sentencing them to death by firing squad. In 
spite of the consequences, four out of five slaves engaged in 
some sort of disobedience. 

Enslaved blacks developed al 
temative support systems. T< 
compensate for their f« 
being tom apart, they 
oped extended family 
networks and supported 
other. Slaves took the first 
portunity to escape, many 
them joining the Union an 
when the Civil War beg; 

Pressure mounted against 1 
slavery system from within i 
without. Late in the war u 
the Confederacy was des 
ate, some southern leaders 
posed releasing slaves 
using them as soldiers. In 
1865, Confederate Presid 
signed a Negro Soldier Law authorizing the enlistment of blacks as 
soldiers. But before it could take effect, the war was over. 


When Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, saying that 
slaves were freed by the federal government, it was seen by 
many as an order coming down from above rather than the act 
of slaves freeing themselves. It could therefore be controlled, dic- 
tated, and limited from above. 

After the war, a congressional law approved by Lincoln returned 
the confiscated land in the South to the heirs of the plantation 
owners. Some blacks complained that the compensation should 
have gone to the slaves, who had worked the land, not to the 
masters, who had perpetrated the crime of slavery. After being 
legally freed, few ex-slaves had land or means for making a liv- 
ing. As a result, many returned to work for their former masters 
through sharecropping arrangements that kept them in debt and 
gave them little more freedom or empowerment than they had 
had under slavery. 

Class Struggle in the Nineteenth Century 

Most interpretations of American history put the Civil War in the 
spotlight as one of the major events in the life of the republic 
and devote a great deal of time to the minutiae of the war, its 
battles, and political struggles. But Zinn isn’t most historians. He 
leaves the well-covered ground of Civil War history to others. In- 
stead, he looks at aspects of American life that are invisible in 
most of the traditional history books. In Zinn’s vision of history, 
America was the scene of class struggles growing out of a class 
structure imported from Europe. But the class struggles were 
played out on a new stage on a new frontier where capitalism 
was developing and creating a new world. 

The Dutch colonies in the 1600s had been ruled under a system 
of patronship, a sort of feudal system in which a few landlords 
controlled all the land and rented parcels out to many tenants, 
ruling over the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. In the 
1800s the social structure of patronship was still evident in a 
residual form. But rebellion against the old order was stirring in 
the form of the Anti-Rent movement, fueled by the ideas of free- 
dom and equality aroused by the Enlightenment and the rhetoric 


^ \ of the American Revolution. After the eco- 
\ nomic crisis of 1837 left many unemployed 
\ an< ^ ^roke, tenants 

* \ \ began to organize 

\ V \ against the land- 

^ I urt for a^la\v that 

w | told that their rebellion had 

^ j J ceptable channels, such as vot- 

IKjBH could do. So the energy of re- 

afe vR J3||D^ jSSwl bellion was diverted into a drive 

In Rhode Island the struggle for voting rights took the j 

form of Dorrs Rebellion, led by Thomas Dorr, a lawyer. (£r5 ]o \j 

In 1841 thousands paraded in Providence ^ IN A 

calling for a broadening of voting rights. jjKt 

They organized a People s Convention and / * jyi/fy 

wrote their own constitution without prop- 1 — 

erty qualifications for voting. They held an 

election on their constitution, which was en- 

dorsed by a majority of the population, in- 

eluding a majority of the landholders who 

were legally allowed to vote. The rebels 

formed their own People s Legislature. 

Though Dorr himself objected, if rMilLlll iff 1 

the new constitution did not i 


extend voting rights to blacks, which angered blacks and caused 
them to join the side of government militia that was putting down 
the rebellion. Dorr was imprisoned for twenty months then freed 
by a newly elected governor who wanted to end Dorr’s martyrdom. 
The Dorr movement took its case to the Supreme Court, claiming 
to be the legitimate government of Rhode Island, but the Supreme 
Court sided with the establishment. 

With tensions created by the 
growing pains of a rapidly evolv- 
ing society, the growth of the 
factory system and continued in- 
flux of immigrants, the govern- 
ment needed a mass base of 
support, and Jacksonian Democ- 
racy, as it was called, created the 
means for achieving it. 

In the 1830s and 1840s Jackson 
was able to enlist the support of 
a broad base of the population 
by projecting the image of a man 
of the people. He was the first to 
master the liberal rhetoric and 
make the common man believe 
he spoke for them, and was one 
of them. He appealed to farm- 
ers, laborers, mechanics, profes- 
sionals and businessmen without 
ever having to reveal his position 
on a variety of vital issues. He 
was not clearly for or against 
labor, business, or any class. 
Even though he had sent troops 
to break a strike on the Chesa- 
peake and Ohio Canal, he re- 
ceived the backing of organized 


New forms of control were needed as the country grew and devel- 
oped rapidly. It was at this time that the two-party system became 
established, which allowed the public to choose between one or the 
other, one perhaps more democratic than the other, but both rep- 
resenting wings of the establishment. Jackson won support by pro- 
viding a little reform, but not enough to upset the established order. 

From 1790 to 1840 the population of the cities grew from fewer 
than one million to eleven million. People were packed together 
and the poor lived in crowded and difficult circumstances. In 
Philadelphia, fifty-five families shared a tenement, one family to 
a room. In New York City, poor people lay in the streets among 
the garbage. They were a potential danger to the government if 
they rose up in anger, but the better paid workers and landown- 
ers could be counted on to support the government. 

Capitalism developed chaotically. In Zinn’s view, because it was 
based strictly on the profit motive without regard to the actual 
needs of people and society it produced periodic slumps. The 
big capitalists tried to secure stability by reducing competition 
through consolidating businesses toward more monopolization. 
With this in mind, there were many mergers in the mid-1850s. 

Although the working class began to develop class conscious- 
ness and organize, most of that resistance is lost to history. 
Trades organized themselves into trade unions for the strength of 
collective bargaining. There were meetings, strikes, uprisings, 
and riots. During the Civil War there were riots against the draft 
and desertions on both sides as many became dissatisfied and 
suspected they were fighting a war between elites of both sides. 

The Union fought the war not to end slavery but to retain the 
southern territory for markets and resources, but there was a pe- 
riod after the war when the anti-slavery movement achieved 
enough momentum to reverse some of the conditions of slavery. 
The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution outlawed slav- 
ery. The Fourteenth repudiated the Dred Scott decision that had 
called slaves property and established that all people born or 
naturalized in the U.S. were citizens. For a while the Union army 
stayed in the South, protecting the slaves from re-enslavement. 


But after Lincoln was assassinated, he was re- 
placed by the southerner Andrew Johnson, who 
was much more sympathetic with southern 
wishes to re-establish the old order of 
the southern aristocracy. Johnson 
dragged his feet on enforcing anti- 
slavery measures and started to re- 
store the old system of white 
domination. He vetoed bills that 
were designed to help the freed 
blacks and made it easy for southern 
states to be accepted into the Union 
without guaranteeing rights for slaves. 

Southern states passed “black codes” 
that made the status of blacks almost 
as bad as when they were slaves. One 
of them, for example, forbid blacks 
from owning or leasing land and 
made them work under harsh 
labor contracts they must up- 
hold or face imprisonment. 

Robber Barons and the Rise 
of Corporate America 

Ad, ihrcm ' 

Mt mi 


The Civil War set the stage for the expansion of the U.S. to a 
continental empire. The war fueled production and provided a 
jumpstart for the capitalist economy. After the Union was saved, 
the race was on to spread the empire to the Pacific Ocean. The 
war and the westward expansion helped the Robber Barons, the 
new supercapitalists, create their empires and build the infra- 
structure of what grew into the corporate America of the twenty- 
first century. 

In the thirty-five years following the Civil War, steam and elec- 
tricity augmented human labor, and wood was supplanted by 
iron, which was in turn supplanted by steel produced by the new 
Bessemer process. Industrialization grew like wildfire. Multiple 
innovations were changing the way Americans lived and worked. 


The railroad 
empires were built 
on land grants obtained 
through the political system. 

The Central Pacific started building 
from the West Coast. The company paid five 
hundred thousand dollars in bribes in Washington to 
get nine million acres of free land and twenty-four 
million dollars in bonds. The Union Pacific > 
started in Nebraska heading west. It was given fi 
twelve million acres of land and 27 million dob ll 
lars in government bonds. The Central Pacific 
got the work done with three thousand Irish and 
ten thousand Chinese immigrants who were fi 
paid a dollar or two a day. The Union Pacific JE 
hired twenty thousand war veterans and ft t 

Irish immigrants. They laid five miles of ft 
track a day and died by the hundreds from \ E Ea I 
the back-breaking work and exposure to f E M 
the elements. In 1869 the two lines ^^LE ma 
met in Utah. 


t tf 




& § 

tPJr of the wide- 
mSr s P rea d fraud in 
MW the railroad in- 
r JfW dustry, the rail- 
Jfnljr roads increasingly fell 
" J/Rnff under control of the 
j|njjjr banks. By the 1890s, the 
railroad industry had devel- 
mjlmr oped into six large systems, 
Ijlr with four of them partly or 
* wholly controlled by the House of 
Morgan. The other two were con- 
trolled by Kuhn, Loeb & Company. 

The son of a banker, J.P Morgan had cut his teeth on selling 
railroad stocks. During the Civil War he bought five thousand ri- 
fles from an army arsenal for $3.50 each and sold them to a 
general for $22 each. Through smart political negotiating, his 
firm, Drexel, Morgan & Company, received a sweetheart gov- 
ernment contract to float a bond issue of $260 million, which 
would earn it $5 million in commissions; the government could 
have avoided paying this sum by issuing the bonds itself. The 
railroads were granted miles of free land around the tracks they 
built. The control of the arteries of commerce and much of the 
land around them gave the railroads the leverage to control the 
economic fortunes of vast reaches of the country. 

Three companies, Drexel, Morgan & Company; Kidder, Peabody 
& Company and Brown Brothers & Company practically con- 
trolled the rail system of the United States. They met secretly to 
set prices and form pacts that eliminated competition. 

Other industries followed similar models to create future em- 
pires. These tactics involved shrewd and ruthless practices that 
made clever use of government subsidies. One industry after an- 
other fell under the control of small groups of corporations con- 
trolled in turn by banks in tight, interlocking networks of power. 


John D. Rockefeller decided that whoever controlled the refiner- 
ies would control the oil industry. By 1899 his Standard Oil Com- 
pany controlled many other companies, and the Rockefeller 
fortune climbed to two billion dollars. The Rockefeller family con- 
tinues to be a major force in America in the twenty-first Century. 

While in London, Andrew Carnegie found out about the Besse- 
mer method of producing steel, and the former Wall Street bro- 
ker returned to the U.S. to build a steel plant. Congress 
protected him from foreign competition by imposing tariffs on 
foreign products, and as a result, Carnegie was soon making 
forty million dollars a year. He sold his steel company to J.P. 
Morgan for $492 million, enabling Morgan to form U.S. Steel. 


Though the Fourteenth Amendment was designed to protect the 
rights of newly freed slaves, once it became law, corporate 
lawyers began devising ways to use it to transfer rights and 
power from people to corporations. By legal sleight of hand, cor- 
porations were granted the rights of human beings. 

Big business ran the country and in large measure controlled the 
government. The need for labor was supplied by a plentiful sup- 
ply of immigrants, who worked for little money and often in 
barely survivable conditions. Typical was the story of an Italian 
who was told he was going to Connecticut to work on the rail- 
road and instead ended up in the South working in sulfate mines, 
kept in line by armed guards, given little food, and earning only 
enough money to get to work. Widespread misery led to rebel- 
lions and civil strife. 

In 1893, after decades of industrial growth, manipulation of fi- 
nancial markets, speculation, and profiteering, the financial sys- 
tem collapsed in a major crisis, with 642 banks and 16,000 
businesses failing. Millions were out of work. Workers and farm- 
ers rose up in anger against the big business interests. Laborers 
joined together in unions. Farmers combined to form alliances. 
In 1877 the Socialist Labor Party was formed. A working class 
consciousness grew. The farmers alliances joined together and 
became the Peoples party, or Populist party. Meeting at a Pop- 
ulist convention in Topeka, Kansas, in 1890, Populist Mary 
Ellen Lease told the crowd, “Wall Street owns the country. It is 
no longer a government of the people, by the people, and for 
the people, but a government of Wall Street... Our laws are the 
output of a system which clothes rascals in robes and honesty 
in rags...” 

The Populist party grew stronger, but eventually was absorbed 
into the Democratic party. In 1896 the Populist/Democratic can- 
didate, William Jennings Bryan was defeated by William McKin- 
ley, who was supported by a mobilization of major corporations 
and the press. McKinley struggled to contain the rebellion 
against the system, and after two years in office came upon a 
formula for arousing support of the masses. The U.S. declared 
war on Spain. 


The Rise of American Empire 

At the end of the nineteenth century, the United States reached 
to the Pacific coast. In one hectic century the European immi- 
grants had rushed across the continent and claimed dominion of 
everything in their path. But capitalism, with its inherent princi- 
ple of expansion, was not satisfied. It needed more markets, 
more sources of raw materials for industry. As U.S. Navy Cap- 
tain A.T. Mahan, a propagandist for expansionism said, “Amer- 
icans must now begin to look outward.” 

A Washington Post editorial on the eve of the Spanish Ameri- 
can War said, “A new consciousness seems to have come upon 
us — the consciousness of strength — and with it a new appetite, 
the yearning to show our strength. ... Ambition, interest, land 
hunger, pride, the mere joy of fighting, whatever it may be, we 
are animated by a new sensation. The taste of Empire is in the 
mouth of the people even as the taste of blood in the jungle.” 

Was it really an instinctive urge for aggression, Zinn asked, or 
was it stirred up by “the millionaire press, the military, the gov- 
ernment, the eager-to-please scholars of the time?” 

The philosopher William James 
wrote that Teddy Roosevelt 
“gushes over war as 
the ideal condition of 
human society, for the 
manly strenuousness 
which it involves...” But Roo- 
sevelt was also very conscious of 
war as a way of furthering busi- 
ness through overseas markets. Mil- 
itary domination of foreign markets 
was referred to as the “open door 
policy.” It sounded friendly and 
civilized, but if that didn’t 
work, “the big stick” was al- 
ways close at hand. 


American business kept its eye ^ 

on Cuba, which was struggling with 
Spain for independence. American 
businessmen saw an opportunity of 
gaining more influence. They were 
also concerned that because a large 
part of the Cuban population was 
black, that the revolution could lead to a 
black republic, the second in the 
Caribbean after Haiti. The McKinley admin- 
istration did not want the revolutionaries to 
take over, but they wanted Spain out of 
Cuba. The government placed the battle- 
ship Maine in Havana harbor and r 
when an unexplained explosion YA 
sunk the ship, killing 268 men, it 
became the perfect pretext for 
war with Spain. The Spanish Jfr vr ( 
were defeated in three months 
in what Secretary of State John 
Hay called “a splendid little 0 6 
war.” The Cuban revolutionar- * 


ies were shunned and shut out, 
not allowed to participate in ^ v, 
the negotiation of surrender pyO 

and told by the Americans ' 

to stay out of the way. h D w$wr 

Though Congress had prohibited the colonization of Cuba, 
American businesses flocked in, taking over the lumber, sugar, 
mining, and railroad industries. United Fruit bought 1 .9 million 
acres of land at twenty cents an acre and took over the sugar in- 
dustry. The American Tobacco Company moved in. Eighty per- 
cent of Cuba’s minerals were in the hands of American 
companies, mostly Bethlehem Steel. 

The U.S. government told the Cuba Constitutional Convention 
that its army would not leave Cuba until the Platt amendment of 
the U.S. Congress was incorporated into the Cuban Constitu- 
tion. The provision gave the U.S. the right to intervene “for the 
preservation of Cuban independence, the maintenance of a gov- 
ernment adequate for the protection of life, property, and indi- 
vidual liberty.” 

Though Cuba was not officially taken over, as General Leonard 
Wood wrote to Teddy Roosevelt, “There is, of course, little or 
no independence left Cuba under the Platt Amendment.” The 
U.S. did take over Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Guam, and the Philip- 
pines. Filipinos rose up against American domination and the 
U.S. fought brutally for four years to put them down, leaving 
thousands of Filipinos dead. 

William James joined 
with other intellectuals, 
politicians, and busi- 
nesspeople to form the 
Anti-Imperialist League 
to oppose the overseas 
exploits of the govern- 
ment. While the struggle 
raged in the Philippines, 
the political struggle 
over it raged at home. 


Enter Socialism 

Warfare and the stirring of patriotic emotions could only go so 
far in uniting and pacifying a nation, and discontent boiled up to 
the surface in the early twentieth century. Acclaimed writers were 
among those who criticized the capitalist system, including Mark 
Twain, Jack London, Upton Sinclair, Theodore Dreiser, and 
Frank Norris. 

Jack London, known mostly for adventure stories like The Call 
of the Wild, was a passionate socialist who had worked his way 
up from poverty as the son of an unwed mother. He had experi- 
enced the hardships of life on the bottom rungs of society; he 
was clubbed, beaten, and tortured by police, arrested for va- 
grancy, and hopped freights with hoboes. But he also read Tol- 
stoy, Flaubert, and Marx. He spent time in the slums of London 
and wrote a nonfiction piece about it called People of the Abyss. 
Later he wrote The Iron Heel, which described how fascism 
could take over America. “In the face of the facts that modern 
man lives more wretchedly than the cave-man, and that his pro- 
ducing power is a thousand times greater than that of the cave- 
man, no other conclusion is possible than that the capitalist class 
has mismanaged ... criminally and selfishly mismanaged.” The 
people should take over the machines and run them themselves, 
he said. “That, gentlemen, is socialism.” 

With widespread discontent over nearly unlivable conditions of 
much of the population, the ideas of socialism spread and the 
trade union movement grew with the realization that working 
people could stop the system by stopping work. It was not wel- 
comed by the capitalists, however, and the resulting war on the 
streets became extremely brutal. 

At the outset unions were practically all white and all male, and 
there was a great deal of racism within the unions, as those on 
the bottom struggled to hold on to whatever they could. They 
were turned against each other by those who owned and con- 
trolled production. As the largest union, the American Federa- 
tion of Labor, grew larger and more powerful, it also became 
corrupt as its upper echelon became accustomed to the privileges 


of wealth and rank. In 1905, two hundred socialists, anarchists, 
and radical trade unionists met in Chicago to form a new kind of 
union, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). It came to- 
gether for “emancipation of the working class from the slave 
bondage of capitalism” and to put the “working class in posses- 
sion of the economic power, the means of life, in control of the 
machinery of production and distribution, without regard to the 
capitalist masters.” Among the founders were Eugene V. Debs, 
leader of the Socialist party, and Mother Mary Jones, a seventy- 
five-year-old organizer for the United Mine Workers. 

The IWW members (“Wobblies”) wanted to combine all unions 
into one big union, inclusive of all, no longer keeping out women 
or blacks. They did not initiate violence, but did fight back when 
attacked. They learned from the ideas of anarcho-syndicalism 
that were growing in Italy, Spain, and France, summarized in the 
words of IWW organizer Joseph Ettor: “If the workers of the 

world want to win, all they 
have to do is recognize their 
own solidarity. They have 
nothing to do but 
fold their arms 
and the world 
will stop.” 



^b(JLL Ste B u t the owners were willing 

B to employ their own armies 

of thugs to enforce their will 
upon workers and there 
were many grim incidents. 
Joe Hill, an IWW organizer, 
was a songwriter who cre- 
ated songs that became an- 
thems of the movement. In 
1915 he was accused of 
killing a grocer in robbery 

there was no direct evi- 
dence, there was enough cir- 

convince jury, and he was 
:ecuted by firing squad in spite 
,000 letters to the governor in 
Jany demonstrations were at- 
>lice and thugs; people were 
;n, kicked, blackjacked, shot, 
hung. By 1904 there were 

To quiet things down, government introduced reforms, leading to 
the adoption of the term “the Progressive Period.” The reforms 
were focused on calming the uprisings, without making funda- 
mental changes. Under President Theodore Roosevelt, laws were 
passed to enforce regulate railroads and pipelines, food and 
drugs, telephone and telegraph systems, and the banking sys- 
tem. Though the reforms did not threaten the status quo, they 
dropped enough of the wealth of the 
ruling classes into the working a \ 

classes to calm down the un- p (/ V-fj Vk 

rest and to create a buffer be- C ^ rv V 

tween the top and bottom / 

levels of society. otV v \ \ 


The reforms also strengthened the 
power of central government and 
enabled businessmen to exercise 
more control over government. 
Business favored the reforms be- 
cause they initiated stability to the 
troubled capitalist system. Roosevelt 
became known as a trust-buster. His 
successor, the conservative William 
Howard Taft, actually busted more 
trusts than Roosevelt. 

The Warfare State 

In a society run by capitalism, with 
periodic slumps and crashes, with 
vast distances between the fortunes of 
the rich and the destitution of the 
poor, and rebellion boiling up from 
the bottom, war serves many pur- 
poses. It creates markets and spikes 
production, giving the economy a 

jumpstart and enriching industries. It 
ignites patriotism, diverts dissent, and 
creates justifications for actions that 
would be unacceptable in peace time. 

Soon after the turn of the twentieth 
century, a long period of relative 
peace, prosperity, and progress in 
the western world came to a close 
as The Great War ignited in Europe 
and blazed for months turning into 
years. Ten million died in battle and 
twenty million more died of hunger 
and disease resulting from the 
war. Thousands died just to 
L* move the battle lines a few 
(KWr yards one way or the other. 


And, Zinn says, no one can show any purpose for it, anything 
that was accomplished for humanity. 

Socialists called it an imperialist war, with the advanced capital- 
ist countries fighting over territory, resources, colonies, and 
spheres of influence. President Woodrow Wilson campaigned for 
re-election in 1916 on having “kept us out of war,” but after tak- 
ing office, he brought America into the war. 

To provide a legal justification for entering the war, Wilson fo- 
cused on the German announcement that they would attack 
ships that brought supplies to their enemies. Wilson said he 
could not consent to any “abridgement of the rights of American 
citizens” and then plunged them into the European catastrophe. 

The U.S. had gone into recession in 1914, but supplying war 
materials for the allies had become a good market for American 
business and helped bolster a failing economy. Wilson had de- 
clared that America needed markets abroad, and The Great War 
created a big one. W.E.B. Du Bois wrote that American capital- 
ism needed international rivalry and periodic war to create an 
artificial community between rich and poor and divert the actual 
community of interest of the poor that tended to erupt in politi- 
cal action. 

Wilson’s biographer wrote that the war was determined by Wil- 
son “and public opinion,” but Zinn argues that public support 
for the war had to be artificially churned up with a massive prop- 
aganda campaign. There were so few volunteers — only 73,000 
of the one million the government hoped for — that Congress was 
forced to institute a draft. 

After Congress declared war, the Socialist party grew in strength, 
with thousands turning up whenever Socialists gave speeches. 
Congress passed the Espionage Act to suppress dissent. It man- 
dated prison terms of up to twenty years for people who attempted 
“to cause insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny, or refusal of duty in 
the military or naval forces.” It was used to intimidate and imprison 
people who spoke or wrote against the war. In 1918 Socialist 
leader Eugene Debs gave a speech across the street from a jail that 
held three Socialists for resisting the draft. He was arrested under 



? E E 

the Espionage Act 
and sentenced to 
ten years in prison. 

He served thirty- 
two months and in 
1921, at age sixty- 
six, was released by Pres- 
ident Warren G. Harding. 

About 900 people served time 
under the Espionage Act out of 2,000 

The New York Times ran an editorial in 
1917 that said, 'it is the duty of every 
good citizen to communicate to proper au- 
thorities any evidence of sedition that 
comes to his notice/’ The Post Office De- 
partment took away mailing privileges 
from publications that printed antiwar arti- 
cles. In Los Angeles, a film was shown 
about the American Revolution called 
The Spirit of ’ 76 , which portrayed 
atrocities committed by British 
troops on American colonists. The 
filmmaker was prosecuted under 
the Espionage Act because, ac- 
cording to the judge, the film ques- 
tioned “the good faith of our ally 
Great Britain.” 

The war ended in 1919 with 50,000 Americans dead. When it 
was over, the threat of socialism still loomed over the elite 
classes. In 1920 a typesetter and anarchist named Andrea 
Salsedo was arrested by FBI agents and held for eight weeks on 
the 14 <h floor of the Park Row Building in New York, prohibited 
from contacting anyone. When his crushed body was found on 
the pavement below, the FBI said he had committed suicide. 
After Salsedo s death, two of his friends, Nicola Sacco and Bar- 
tolomeo Vanzetti, started carrying guns. They were arrested on 


a streetcar and accused of committing a holdup and murder at 
a shoe factory. They were convicted and sentenced to death. 
After seven years of appeals they were electrocuted. 

Hard Times USA 

When the Great War ended, strikes broke out all over America. 
A strike of 35,000 shipyard workers spread into a general strike 
of 100,000 in Seattle and brought the city to a standstill. Strikes 
and disruptions spread from industry to industry, but by the 
1920s, the leadership of the International Workers of the World 
had been jailed and the organization was destroyed. The So- 
cialist party was falling apart. The boom of the ’20s reduced 
unemployment and prosperity rose, though only the upper 1 0 
percent achieved a substantial increase in income. Protests and 
disruptions died down and those that took place were not widely 


reported by the big media companies that largely controlled the 
movement of information in the country. 

The story that was not being told in the mainstream press was 
left to writers like Theodore Dreiser, Sinclair Lewis, and F. Scott 
Fitzgerald. In “Echoes of the Jazz Age” Fitzgerald wrote of the 
“upper tenth of the nation living with the insouciance of a grand 
due and the casualness of chorus girls. ” Sinclair Lewis wrote of 
the shallow falseness of the new prosperity in his novel Babbit. 
In 1929 came the stock market crash and the Great Depression, 
brought on by wild speculation that collapsed and took the 
economy down with it. From Zinn’s point of view, the cap 
italist system was fundamentally unsound because it was 
driven entirely by the drive for corporate profit. It was 
an ineffective principle by which to direct a society 

When the stock market crashed, the country was 
stunned and unable to get moving again. Five 
thousand banks closed, money stopped circu 
lating, and without access to cash, businesses 
folded in droves. Those in authority had no 
clue what to do about it. President Her 
bert Hoover remained in denial of the 
problem. Just before the crash he had 
said that America was nearing the 
final triumph over poverty. When the 
depression set in, he kept saying it 
would soon end. There was plenty 
of food and clothing and other 
goods around, but it was not 
profitable to distribute it or sell 
it, so it stayed where it was. 

Houses stood empty be- 
cause people couldn’t af- 
ford to move into them. 

Shantytowns grew where 
homeless people gathered, 
and they became known as 
“Hoovervilles. ” 

Homeless veterans of the Great 
War gathered in Washington, 

D.C, to persuade Congress to 
pay them for government bonus 
certificates they had received for 
their service. The bonds were not 
yet due, but the veterans needed 
money. More than 20,000 of 
them camped out across the Po- 
tomac River from the Capitol. Some 
stayed in deserted government buildings, 
others in shacks made of junk. The bill to pay them for the bonus 
certificates passed in the House but was defeated in the Senate. 
Some of the veterans left, but many stayed. Hoover ordered the 
army to get rid of them. The army sent four troops of cavalry, 
four companies of infantry, a machine gun squadron, and six 
tanks, led by General Douglas Macarthur with Major Dwight 
Eisenhower and George Patton under him. The army routed the 
veterans, drove them out of the buildings with tear gas, and set 
fire to the buildings and the encampments as the families fled. 
Two veterans were shot to death; an eleven-week-old baby died; 


enterprises. Unemployment and 
dire poverty remained widespread, 
and they led to many incidents of 
violence and disruption. In 1934 
the Wagner Act was passed to 
regulate labor disputes. 

Some observers said that the 
spontaneous sit-down strikes 
were more effective than 
those organized by union 
leadership. In 1936 there 
were 48 sit-down strikes. 

The next year there were 
477. The National Labor 
Relations Board gave the 
unions legal status, which 
moderated the struggles by 
channeling energy into elec- 
tions. The system responded 
to rebellions by devising new 
methods of control. 

World War II: 

The Clash of Empires 

When fascism, the extreme perversion of predatory capitalism, 
began its march across Europe, it created a threat that united 
even the Communists with the Allied Powers. The fascists rep- 
resented a truly evil threat. But once the war was on, it was not 
simply a battle between good and evil. 

The U.S. did not enter the war to save the Jews from Hitler any 
more than it had fought the Civil War to free the slaves, Zinn says. 
Business continued as usual, with American companies continuing 
to supply the axis countries with the supplies they needed to per- 
petrate their attacks. American oil companies sent oil to Italy to 
fuel its invasion of Ethiopia. When rebellion broke out against fas- 
cism in Spain, Roosevelt sponsored a neutrality act that gave 
Spain’s dictator Franco a free hand, with the help of Hitler and 


to crush the re- 
bellion. The U.S. gov- 

ernment did not object to 

Japan’s butchery of Chinese, but 
only responded when its western base in 
Hawaii was attacked and Japan moved in on the 
Southeast Asian sources of tin, rubber, and oil. The 

U.S. gathered 110,000 Japanese Americans from 
their homes and put them in prison camps for the 
duration of the war. Though the U.S. fought 
«-) against a regime that believed in white su- 
premacy, the U.S. military was segregated. It 
was a war between empires over markets, 
territories, and resources, and its main ben- 
eficiaries were the wealthy industrial elites. 

Despite the climate of patriotism and the 
no-strike pledges of the major unions, there 
were 14,000 strikes during the war, involv- 
ing nearly 7 million workers, more than any 
comparable period in American history. There 
was also some resistance to the war, with 
43,000 draftees refusing to fight. Though Ger- 
many and Italy had started the bombing of cities, 
those bombings were later dwarfed by the much 
more extreme Allied bombings of German and 
Japanese cities. More than 100,000 were killed in 
. the fire bombing of Dresden, Germany. Japan- 
, \ ese cities across the nation were burned 

• rnL down, with 80,000 killed in one night s 

• /f bombing of Tokyo. The atomic bomb 

on Hiroshima wiped out 100,000 and 
poisoned the survivors. As always, it 
was the ordinary people on all sides 
who had the least to gain from the war 
«S9B1 who paid the highest cost. 

The U.S. insisted on unconditional surrender from the Japanese. 
If U.S. authorities had agreed on one condition — that the emperor, 
who was considered holy to the Japanese, would remain in 
place — the surrender would have taken place much earlier. As it 
was, the Japanese were on the verge of surrender, without an in- 
vasion of the Japanese mainland. The American authorities, who 
had broken the Japanese code, knew it. The Russians had agreed 
to declare war on Japan ninety days after the war in Europe 
ended, which would have been August 8, 1945. The Hiroshima 
bomb was dropped August 6. The second bomb, dropped on Na- 
gasaki, was a plutonium bomb instead of a uranium bomb. It was 
scheduled in advance and went forward in spite of the fact that 
Japan was on the verge of collapse. Zinn wonders whether the 
second bomb was dropped as an experiment. 

Even before World War II was over, the ground was already laid 
for the Cold War, the struggle between the West and Commu- 
nism. Anti-Communist panic spread through the U.S., leading 
to McCarthyism, which used the Senate as a forum for accusing 
large parts of the population of being Communists. 

The arms industry, which had been the economic driver that fi- 
nally pulled the U.S. out of the depression, was kept intact after 
the war. The Cold War was used to justify the arms expenditures 
and the military draft, while it also kept the population in line by 
rallying them against a common enemy. The ever-increasing mil- 
itary expenditures became like a drug addiction with corpora- 
tions competing for their share of the bounty. As President 
Eisenhower, a former general, warned against in his farewell ad- 
dress, the maintenance of a peacetime military production in- 
dustry led to unwarranted influence of the industry on 
government policy. 

The Black Revolution 

To those Americans well entrenched in conventional belief sys- 
tems of a racially segregated society, the outbreak of a rebellion 
of African Americans in the 1950s and 1960s was a surprise. But 
the suffering and indignation of an enslaved people was always 


evident to those who really looked. The discontent was 
expressed eloquently in literature going back at least to 1* 
Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and Harriet Beecher 1 
Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin in the nineteenth century, and 1 
increasingly by black writers throughout the twentieth cen- 
tury, such as Langston Hughes, Claude McKay, Paul Laurence 
Dunbar, Margaret Walker, Richard Wright, W.E.B. Du Bois, 
and many others who followed. The social system that kept 
one race in a permanently inferior position was a hot issue 
constantly on the verge of igniting. 

Black militancy made appearances in J 

the 1930s, but moved into the back- l 

ground during World War II. In the 

postwar environment, with the Soviet 

Union presenting a rival system to the 

world, American leaders became con- 

cemed that the perception of the United / 

States as an oppressive country, hypo- 

critical in its pronouncement of 

human rights, would undermine its 1 

image and make Communism look 

good. The movements for self-deter- J®^R8Sl 

mination of Third World people 

guage. In 1946 President — "" 

Harry Truman appointed a Commission on 1| ^LL, Wh 

Civil Rights, which recommended expanding McrahiY t)t> 

laws against lynching, voter discrimination, and Vou 

job discrimination. There were moral reasons for 1 

it, the committee said, but there were also eco- Jr^gyl 

nomic reasons. Discrimination was a waste of ^ 

money and resources and was damaging Amer- Ij 

ica in world politics. Truman had a challenge USEFUL rafi 

from the left with the Progressive Party in the 

election of 1 948, and four months after the 

election, he issued an executive order to 

de-segregate the military “as rapidly as jmJz 

possible.” It took 10 years. 


In 1954 the Supreme Court struck down the “separate but 
equal” doctrine that had stood since the late nineteenth century, 
but did not specify a time limit. A year later it issued another rul- 
ing that it should be done “with all deliberate speed.” Ten years 
later, 75 percent of the school districts in the south were 
still segregated. But in the mid-’ 50s, blacks in the 
south began to agitate to make the changes 
in law into realities in their lives. 

In Montgomery, Alabama, in 
1955, a 43-year-old black 
seamstress named Rosa 
Parks refused to obey the 
rule that blacks had to sit at 
the back of bus and was ar- 
rested. Blacks in Mont- 
gomery called a meeting and 
voted to boycott the city 
buses. The city responded 
by indicting one hundred 
leaders of the boycott and 
sent many of them to jail. 

White supremacists reacted 
in an explosion of violence, 
setting off bombs in four 
black churches, firing a shot- 
gun into the door and then 
bombing the home of Martin 
Luther King, Jr., one of the or- 
ganizers. King held to the principle 
of nonviolent resistance, as taught by Ghandi, 
and it proved to be very effective. Violence was something the 
power structure was well equipped to deal with. Nonviolent re- 
sistance perplexed them. And 
with the eyes of the world 
increasingly turned upon 
the movement, their vio- 
lence began to work 
against them. 

But the authorities refused to enforce laws against discrimina- 
tion and segregation, or defend those in the movement, and 
many blacks lost patience with nonviolence. The progress was 
still largely a matter of words and pronouncements, with little 
visible progress in people’s lives. Though nonviolent resistance 
still prevailed in general, some refused to take violent assaults 
without responding. Two years into the movement that began 
with the Rosa Parks incident, a former marine named Robert 
Williams who headed the NAACP chapter in Monroe, North Car- 
olina, made known his views that blacks should defend them- 
selves when attacked. When Klansmen attacked of one of the 
leaders of the NAACP, Williams and others returned fire. 

A group called the Congress of Racial Equality organized Free- 
dom Rides to challenge segregated seating on interstate buses. 
It had been illegal since 1947, but in 1961 the president, now 
John F. Kennedy, was still reluctant to offend southern politi- 
cians by taking action. The Freedom Riders were attacked with 
fists, iron bars, and clubs. A bus was set on fire in Alabama. Rid- 
ers were jailed. The FBI took notes, but no action. The police did 
not step in to stop the violence. Attorney General Robert F. 
Kennedy did not insist on compliance with the law, but rather 
cut a deal with Mississippi authorities to let the Freedom Riders 
be arrested in return for police protection against mob violence. 

But in spite of the brutal reaction, the movement was persistent 
and gathered momentum and support from a widening circle of 
people, white and black, from the north as well as the south, and 
around the world. They faced formidable resistance. In Birm- 
ingham in 1963 thousands of blacks demonstrated in the streets, 
facing police clubs and dogs, tear gas, and high-powered water 
hoses. The Department of Justice noted 1,412 demonstrations 
in three months in 1963. And the world was watching. 

When Kennedy learned of the massive March on Washington 
planned for the summer of 1963, he endorsed it and it became 
a friendly affair during which Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I 
Have a Dream” speech. John Lewis, a leader of SNCC, was 
asked to tone down his speech by the leaders of the march. 
Eighteen days after the event, a black church in Birmingham was 


bombed, killing four Sun- 
day school girls. Many 
blacks were no longer sat- 
isfied with friendly talk 
combined with refusal to 
take action to defend their 
lives. The militant tones of 
Malcolm X found a wider 
audience. Malcolm said 
that when Kennedy en- 
dorsed the March on 
Washington, he took it 
over and it ceased to be 
angry. It became more 
like a picnic, a circus 
complete with clowns. 
“You’ll get your freedom 
by letting your enemy 
know you’ll do anything 
to get your freedom; then 
you’ll get it,” he said. “It’s 
the only way you’ll get it.” 

In June 1964, members of the movement rented a theater not 
far from the White House and brought in blacks from Mississippi 
to testify about the dangers they faced. Constitutional lawyers 
testified on the government’s legal authority and its mandate to 
take action against the violence. A transcript of the event was de- 
livered to President Johnson and Attorney General Robert 
Kennedy. Neither responded. Twelve days after the meeting one 
black and two white civil rights workers were arrested in Missis- 
sippi, released from jail in the middle of the night, then beaten 
with chains and shot dead. Some of the killers later served jail 
sentences, but to many blacks, the murders were a deadly re- 
minder of the way in which the federal government passively en- 
couraged the murderous actions of segregationists. 

In 1965 President Johnson sponsored and Congress passed a 
Voting Rights Law that promised federal protection of the right 


to vote. As Johnson ’’hUl 
was signing it, an incident 
broke out in Watts, California, as 
a young black driver was arrested, a by- 
stander was clubbed, and a young 
woman was seized after being falsely 
accused of spitting on an officer. A riot 
broke out, with looting and firebombing 
of stores. The National Guard was called 
in, 34 people were killed, hundreds were 
injured, and 4,000 were arrested. Nonvi- 
olence was fading out and 
being replaced by violence. 

In 1967 the U.S. had the most 
intense riots of its history. The 
National Advisory Committee 
on Urban Disorders noted eight 
major uprisings, thirty-three “se- 
rious but not major” outbreaks, 
and 123 minor disorders. Eighty-three people 

were killed by gunfire, most of them black. The report pro- 
filed the “typical rioter” as a high school drop 
out who was better educated than the non- 
rioter, underemployed or employed in a 
menial job, and angry and hostile toward 
whites. The report blamed white racism 
for the disorders. It was an acknowl- 
edgement of the problem, but not 
enough to calm the situation. 

Congress responded to the riotous year by 
passing the Civil Rights Act of 1968, 
which increased penalties for depriving 
people of their civil rights. But it ex- 
empted police or military people. Op- 
ponents of the bill insisted on 
including tough penalties for anyone 
who crossed state lines to “organize, 
promote, encourage, participate in, or 


carry on a riot/’ which it defined as any action of three or more 
people in which there are threats of violence. Ironically the first 
person to be prosecuted under the law was black: H. Rap Brown, 
who made a militant speech before a disturbance broke out in 
Maryland. It was also used against the Chicago Seven (or 
Chicago Eight) after the anti-war demonstrations during the 
Democratic Convention. 

In 1967, Martin Luther King, Jr. came out against the Vietnam 
War, expanding his cause from traditional civil rights to broader 
class and social struggles. At this point he became a target of a 
concentrated covert attack by the FBI, a campaign designed “to 
destroy” him in the words of a Senate report of 1976. During 
this campaign, his phone conversations were tapped, his hotel 
rooms were bugged, and he was threatened. At one point an FBI 
letter threatened to release damaging information about him if 
he did not commit suicide. 

When King was killed, it ignited disturbances across the country 
in which thirty-nine people were killed, thirty-five of whom were 
black. The FBI intensified its targeting of black leaders, now rec- 

ognizing them as subversives, even labeling them communists. In 
late 1969 at 5 a. m., a squad of Chicago police armed with sub- 
machine guns and shotguns raided the house of some Black Pan- 
thers, firing at least eighty -two rounds, killing two young men, 
one in his bed. The FBI had an informant among the Panthers 
who had given them a floor plan of the apartment to help them 


From 1964 to 1972, Zinn points out, the richest country with 
the largest military force in the world unleashed everything in its 
arsenal short of nuclear weapons to suppress a nationalist up- 
rising in a poor peasant country and failed. The war incited the 
most massive antiwar movement in the nation s history. 

Vietnam had been under colonial domination of the French since 
the mid-nineteenth century, but during World War II was occu- 
pied by the Japanese Empire. When Japan was defeated in the 
war, it lost its hold on the country. As the U.S. Defense Depart- 
ment study on Vietnam (the Pentagon Papers) described, the 
Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh united the country with a con- 
stitution that borrowed its philosophy and verbiage from the U.S. 
Declaration of Independence, overthrew the Japanese in 1945 
and for a few weeks in September of that year Vietnam was free 
of foreign domination. 



The Allied Powers were eager to remedy that situation 
and return Vietnam to French control. England occupied 
the southern part of Indochina and turned it over to the 
French. Nationalist China under Chiang Kai-shek had 
occupied the north, and the U.S. persuaded China 
to turn the North over to the French. 
In late 1945 and early 1946 Ho Chi 
Minh wrote eight letters to President Tru- 
man. He reminded him of the Atlantic 
Charter, a document drafted by President 
Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Win- 
ston Churchill that had stated that all coun- 
tries had a right to self-determination after the 
war. Truman never responded. 

In 1946 the French bombed Haiphong Harbor in an attempt to 
suppress resistance, but it led to an eight-year struggle, with the 
U.S. lending massive aid to the French. By 1954 the U.S. had 
given 300,000 small arms and machine guns and one billion dol- 
lars, financing 80 percent of the French campaign. A secret Na- 
tional Security Memo explained why: Communist control of 
Southeast Asia would imperil U.S. interests in the region, such 
as rice, tin, rubber, iron ore, coal, and oil. 


The U.S. was operating under the Domino Theory; if one country 
went Communist, others would follow. So it put all its effort into 
stopping what it saw as the first domino. The Vietnamese wanted 
self-determination, calling themselves The Democratic Republic 
of Vietnam. But to the Americans, they were Communists. 

When the French gave up the fight in 1954, the U.S. took over. 
An internationally organized peace negotiation in Geneva de- 
cided that the French would withdraw to the south of Vietnam 
and in two years there would be an election to allow the Viet- 
namese to choose their own government. The U.S. moved to 
prevent the unification of the country and set up South Vietnam 
as a client state of the U.S. under a 
former Vietnamese official who had 
been living in New Jersey, Ngo 
Dinh Diem. He was supported by 1 ,^ /JW 

the U.S. and did its bidding, which \ 
included preventing elections. The ^ MMKi 

Pentagon Papers recorded the ere- /Mr f\ 

ation of South Vietnam 

Diem was very un- y •• . ./!%. I 

popular, and resist- //£ ■ ^ 

ance grew and grew, 

requiring increasing effort to sup- ' 

press. When Kennedy took office in 
1961, he continued the policies of 
Truman and Eisenhower, including the ¥ 
authorization of agents to go into North . 

Vietnam to conduct “sabotage and light I'/|, t j 
harassment.” Under the Geneva Ac- II 
cords, the U.S. was permitted to have 
685 military advisors. Eisenhower se- j 

cretly sent several thousand, and under 
Kennedy the number rose to 16,000, some / 
of whom engaged in combat. But the strategy ^ 
was failing. Most of the territory was in the con- 
trol of the National Liberation Front, the agency 
of resistance among the Vietnamese people. 

.,iin u 




Some South Vietnamese generals plotted to overthrow Diem, 
discussing their plans with a CIA agent who told U.S. Ambassa- 
dor Henry Cabot Lodge, who endorsed the idea. Lodge reported 
to Kennedy’s assistant McGeorge Bundy, who reported to the 
president. Kennedy was hesitant, but made no move to warn 
Diem. When the rebellion began, Diem called Lodge, who 
feigned ignorance. Diem tried to flee the palace, but was cap- 
tured, taken out in a truck, and murdered. Three weeks later 
Kennedy was assassinated and Lyndon B. Johnson took power. 

The generals who took over could not succeed to suppress the 
Vietnamese, whose resourcefulness and morale was a mystery to 
American military planners. In August 1964 Johnson used a 
phony incident in the Gulf of Tonkin to get Congress to author- 
ize him to launch all-out war and began bombing North Vietnam. 
In 1965, 200,000 troops were sent; the next year added 
200,000 more. In early 1968 there were 500,000 troops in 
Vietnam. The air force was dropping bombs at a higher rate than 
ever in history. Large areas of South Vietnam were declared free 
fire zones, which meant anyone in them, including women and 
children, would be considered the enemy. U.S. actions became 
increasingly desperate and brutal, but nothing worked to sup- 

press the resistance. 

In 1968 Richard 
Nixon was elected 

president, promising that he had \ 
a secret plan to end the war. He in- sS?" L \ 
creased the bombing of the North, 
but planned the “Vietnamization” of 
the war, which meant to turn it over to ||P 
South Vietnamese forces with U.S. arms 1 j 
and air support. Nixon secretly spread the i 
bombing into Laos and Cambodia. Then he 
launched an invasion of Cambodia. It was a 
failure and Congress began to pull back its 
support of the war. 

Resistance to the war spread and built in inten- 
sity. It took many forms, including the disclosure 



W a 

k \\wk 


of the Pentagon Papers, an internal Defense Department history 
of the war made public by Daniel Ellsberg, with editing from Zinn 
and Noam Chomsky. Nixon claimed to be unaffected by protest, 
but in fact went berserk over it. It probably impaired his judg- 
ment, as in the case when he set up a burglary of Daniel Ells- 
berg s office. When Nixon invaded Cambodia, protests raged to 
a peak and at Kent State University in Ohio, National Guards- 
men let loose a volley of gunfire on protesting students and killed 
four of them. Students at four hundred colleges went on strike 
in protest, the largest such action ever in America. 

The protests were uncontrollable, just as the war was unwinnable, 
and authorities feared that the country was becoming ungovern- 
able. Eventually Nixon was forced to give up, and the war ended. 
Vietnam had finally won its independence. By the end of the war 
seven million tons of bombs had been dropped on Vietnam, Laos, 
and Cambodia, more than double all the bombs dropped on Asia 
and Europe in World War 11. More than 58,000 Americans had 
been killed, hundreds of thousands were wounded, some very se- 
verely, and millions of Vietnamese were killed. 

Other Struggles 

Out of the civil rights movement and the antiwar movement, 
grew other movements for liberation and human rights. One of 
the most significant was the women’s movement, which chal- 
lenged ancient male-dominated social patterns and helped to 
bring women closer to a position of equality with men. This was 
an even more intimate revolution, an overturning of values and 
thought structures not only in the society, but in the family. The 
oppression of women had gone on so long, was so deeply buried 
within the psyche of both men and women, that it was largely ig- 
nored and accepted. The awareness of the injustices crept up on 
the society almost undetected, then suddenly burst forth in a new 
awareness and defiance. What was barely a thought during the 
civil rights struggles and the anti-war struggles suddenly came 
into the center stage of history. 


Other movements followed, including a push for the recognition 
of the human rights of prisoners, as guaranteed in the U.S. Con- 
stitution. Those rights, as many others, existed on paper, but are 
often ignored or suppressed in real life. In the early ’70s, prison- 
ers revolted inside prisons against cruel and inhumane treatment. 

Zinn points out the class structure of the penal system. In 1969, 
tax fraud cases, involving an average of $190,000, were seen as 
“white collar crime” and were handled lightly, with only 20 per- 
cent of the convicted criminals actually doing jail time. Those 
sentences averaged seven months. Jehovah’s witnesses who re- 
fused to serve in Vietnam received two-year sentences. But in 
burglary or auto theft — the crimes of poor people — the penalties 
were much harsher. Auto thefts averaging $992 earned sen- 
tences of 1 8 months. Prison uprisings took place with increasing 
frequency during the late ’60s, reaching a peak at Attica State 
Prison in New York in September 1971 . Issues over treatment of 
prisoners have not made much progress, as conditions may have 
worsened since that time. 


The Native Americans who had stood on the sidelines, pushed 
off their land by force, trickery, or massacre, began to reassert 
themselves and their rights during 
the mid to late twentieth century. The 
Native American civilization had been 
effectively destroyed, culture and com- 
munity shattered, its livelihood taken. 

Native Americans who had survived 
were often stripped of their own cul- 
tures and pushed into reservations and 
forced to adopt the trappings of 
the white culture without its 
wealth. The U.S. government 
signed more than 400 treaties 
with Indians and broke every 
one. In the late 1960s Indi- 
ans began to approach the 
government about the bro- 
ken agreements. The old 
struggles resurfaced. 

During the same period, homosexuals also began to assert their 
rights for fair treatment in a movement that came to be known 
as gay liberation. In the ’60s and ’70s there was a widespread 
rebellion against former ways of thinking and doing things. 
Nearly all conventional beliefs were being subject to scrutiny and 
examination: the sexual revolution, the environmental move- 


ment, the psychedelic movement, and various spiritual move- 
ments. Music, dress, sexual mores, everything was challenged 
and changing. 

Distrust of officials fomented during the Vietnam War and 
peaked with the revelation of some of the crimes of the Nixon ad- 
ministration, fueling skepticism and distrust of politicians and all 
oppressive thinking. Nixon was forced out of office. The Viet- 
nam War was over. The establishment had been pushed back 
with Vietnam, but the battle was not over. The right wing re- 
constituted itself. 

In the mid-’ 7 Os things qui- 
eted down. The govern- 
ment ended the military 
draft, using a volunteer 
army to leave the fight- 
ing to the poor, by mak- 
ing the military one of few viable 
career choices open to poor peo 
pie. Consolidation of media into 
the hands of a few corporations nar- 
rowed the range of opinion that 
was aired in a public forum. 

The news, the first writings of 
history, could be controlled 
by a handful of major corpo- 
rations controlled by the 
same power networks that 
benefitted by defense con- 
tracts and other related 
economic interests. 

After the fall of Nixon, 
power swung to Jimmy 
Carter, a conservative 
southern Democrat, then 
in 1980 to Ronald Rea- 
gan, a right wing Republi- 
can. But neither party 


strayed far from a narrowly defined set of principles based on the 
capitalist belief that: the pursuit of corporate profit is practically 
the only necessary function of human institutions; profit justifies 
any behavior; and anything that does not produce a profit does 
not deserve to exist. The shared belief system of the Republicans 
and Democrats supported the accumulation of large fortunes by 
a few, in the midst of crushing poverty, and an acceptance of 
war as an ongoing activity of the state. Alternatives to those prin- 
ciples were screened out of the two-party system. The axis of 
power seems to have narrowed with a progression of leaders 
who all share most of the same beliefs in terms of corporate 

globalization: Carter, Reagan, Bush, 
Clinton, and Bush. The disaffection of 
voters was reflected in abysmally low 
voter turnout. 

In 2000 the Supreme Court 
stopped the counting of 
votes in Florida and awarded 
the presidency to George W. 
Bush, even though A1 Gore 
had half a million votes more 
than Bush nationally, and when the 
votes were finally tallied later by a 
consortium of newspapers, it was 
shown that Gore got more votes 
in Florida than Bush and should 
have been elected president. But 
the Supreme Court justices, led 
by Antonin Scalia, a Bush Sr. ap- 
pointee, came up with a very 
strange legal justification for 
stopping the vote counting 
based on the 14 th Amendment, 
which ensured “Equal Protec- 
tion” of the law for all citizens. 
The majority opinion said that 
the votes could not be counted 
because the voting methods 

were not uniform, some were punch cards, some electronic scan- 
ners. That constituted a violation of the principle of Equal Pro- 
tection, Scalia asserted, because all voters were not using the 
same systems. But that principle would also have rendered vir- 
tually all elections invalid at least since the institution of voting 
machines. Perhaps because of that, the judgment stated that the 
decision could never be used as a precedent in any other case, 
it was just for this one time. 

The Hidden Revolution 

In the 1990s Zinn reports of the rise of what a New Republic 
writer called “a permanent adversarial culture” in the United 
States. In spite of the consensus between Democrats and Re- 
publicans that ensured smooth running of capitalism and mas- 
sive military power in service of the empire, with wealth staying 
right where it was, in the hands of a few, there were still many 
people who were not going along with the system. Since the cor- 
porate media prefer to deny the existence of discontent or op- 
position to the status quo, little trace of it can be found in 
mainstream media channels. 


Other Works 

Howard Zinn is the author of 
about twenty books, and innu- 
merable essays, articles, plays, 
and introductions to other people’s 
books. Following is a listing and 
discussion of a selection of them. 

The Zinn Reader: Writings on Disobedience and Democracy 

If People’s History of the United States is Zinn’s principal work, 
The Zinn Reader stands as the other bookend on the Zinn book- 
shelf. It’s a good second pillar in building an understanding of 
Zinn and his work. It’s a brick of a book, nearly 700 pages, 
stuffed full of essays, articles, selections from books, and auto- 
biographical pieces by Zinn grouped into sections on race, class, 
war, law, and “means and ends,” which refers to activism. The 


book emerged from a meeting in 1978 when Zinn was teaching 
in Paris with Dan Simon, the founder of Seven Stories Press. 
Simon proposed the idea of a book to give people who knew 
Peoples History a single volume in which they could sample a 
broad range of his writing and ideas. The book succeeds as a 
definitive slice from the life and career of Howard Zinn. 

You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal History 

of Our Times is Zinn’s autobiography, another of the primary 
works that should be on any Zinn bookshelf, and is a remarkably 
personal look at his life. 

Conscience of the Jazz Age: LaGuardia in Congress, Zinn’s 

first published work was developed from his doctoral disserta- 
tion, which he wrote during his first two years teaching at Spel- 
man College. It dealt with Fiorello LaGuardia, who was best 
known as mayor of New York from 1934-1945. The book fo- 
cuses on his term as a member of the U.S. House of Represen- 
tatives. He served in Congress from 1917 to 1933, with breaks 
to serve in World War I and to serve as president of the New 
York City Board of Aldermen from 1920 to 1921. Zinn’s inter- 
est in the labor movement led him to LaGuardia. He had been in- 
terested in writing about civil rights issues, but his Columbia 
Professor Henry Steele Commager had discouraged him, saying 
he should stay away from civil rights and pick a safer subject in 
order to avoid any barriers to getting his PhD. 

In Congress, LaGuardia was an upstart and a troublemaker, out 
of step with his times as he struggled for the rights of working 
people during the Roaring Twenties. Zinn saw him as a transi- 
tional figure who carried the banner for progressive reform in the 
years before and during the Great Depression before Franklin D. 
Roosevelt introduced the New Deal. He stood up for peace, free 
speech, and the rights of the poor and minorities. He fought to 
keep down the rising costs of food and rent, supported the rights 
of workers to strike, and worked for a redistribution of wealth 
through taxation. Though he was a member of the Republican 
Party, he was at times called a radical and a socialist. 


When the disserta- 
tion was published 
as a book, the title was 
shortened to LaGuardia 
in Congress. Zinn’s next two 
books. The Southern Mystique and 
The New Abolitionists, grew out of his 
experiences in the civil rights movement. 
Both were published in 1964. 

The Southern Mystique began as an article in the winter 1963- 
1964 issue of The American Scholar. An editor with Alfred A. 
Knopf publishing house liked it and encouraged Zinn to expand 
it into a book. In it Zinn argues that the most striking develop- 
ment is not that the process of desegregation had begun, but 
that the mystique of the South was dissolving. 


Zinn tried to strip away the mystique and look hard at Southern 
culture. The mystery of the Southern white was that he was be- 
lieved to carry this thing called racial prejudice around in his 
head. Zinn took an existential approach — action. Rather than 
getting hung up on where the problem came from, he said, let’s 
look at changing behavior by changing the circumstances. Zinn 
suggested that if the laws were changed it would change behav- 
ior and the way people think about the issue. If blacks and whites 
experience living together under equal rights before the law, they 
will get to know each other and the strangeness, the mystique 
will fall away. 

Zinn’s thinking on the issue traced back to his experience in the 
service with a sergeant who complained about having to eat with 
a black man, but would rather do it than go without food. South- 
erners do care about racial segregation, he said, but they care 
about other things more, such as their economic security, their 
place in the community, or avoiding going to jail. 






The key to erasing the mystique that keeps races 
apart and makes them incomprehensible to each 
other is contact, said Zinn. If people live and 
work together, they soon realize they have 
more in common than they have in oppo- 
sition to one another. Racial differences 
^ usually fade into the background when 

‘ v people get to know each other. 




p f/> 

- r* /'j 

In The Southern M; 
tique, Zinn also disagre 
/ith “Southern exception 
the idea that the South 
nt from the rest of the r 
er than being different, Zi 
said, the South is the essence of the U. 
and embodies the basic traits of America, 1 
exaggerated form. The South mirrors the pi 
f the country, containing “in concentrated a 
a set of characteristics which mark the coun 
>se very qualities long attributed to the South 
ms are, in truth, American qualities, and the r 
ionally to the South precisely because it si 
qnizes itself there.” 

SNCCJhe New Abolitionists. Zinn’s third book also grew out 
of his experience as an adult adviser to the Student Nonviolent 
Coordinating Committee. The book attempted to “catch a 
glimpse of SNCC people in action, and to suggest the quality of 
their contribution to American civilization.” 

As always, he 
made no at- 
tempt to be an objec- 
tive outside observer. He 
was closely involved with SNCC 
and the book was drawn primarily 
from his own experiences, as well 
as his research through SNCC’s 
archives and other available mate- 
rial. He called the organization “the 
nation’s most vivid reminder that there 
is an unquenchable spirit alive in the 
world today, beyond race, beyond nation- 
ality, beyond class. It is a spirit which 
seeks to embrace all people everywhere.” 

He compared SNCC members 
to the abolitionists, who 
fought against slavery 
from the inception of 
the United States up 
to the Civil War. 

“We have in this 
country today a 
movement which will 

take its place alongside that of the abolitionists, 
the Populists, the Progressives — and may outdo 
them all,” he wrote. 

He drew the idea from Erik Erikson, a psychoanalyst 
who developed a theory on social development and 
coined the phrase “identity crisis,” that a patient in ther- 
apy “must begin to see himself as he really is.” Apply- 
ing it to America’s civil rights struggles, he said 


through fee. 


that the “young Negro” in the civil rights movement had forced 
the country “to see itself through his eyes” instead of the Negro 
always having to view himself through the eyes of the white man” 
and as a result, America “is coming closer to a realistic appraisal 
of its national personality.” 

Zinn also noted differences. The abolitionist movement was led 
primarily by whites from New England, but the civil rights move- 
ment was led by young blacks. The abolitionists mostly relied on 
persuasion by the written and spoken word; the civil rights ac- 
tivists borrowed methods of nonviolent resistance from Mohan- 
das Ghandi. The new abolitionists demonstrated their messages 
through “physical acts of sacrifice.” When those actions are 
broadcast around the world by mass media they bring attention 
and pressure for reform. 

The key to understanding abolition old and new, Zinn said, was 
“the recognition that agitation, however it offends one’s friends 
and creates temporary strife, is indispensable to social progress 
as a way of breaking through an otherwise frozen status quo.” 

day, of Negro and white people are so entwined physically, in- 
tellectually, emotionally.” Though relations were not always har- 
monious, Zinn believed that contact between races was the key 
to erasing old boundaries. 

New Deal Thought. Zinn’s fourth book was born in a taxicab 
after a meeting of the American Historical Association. He 
shared a cab with another historian, Leonard Levy, who recog- 
nized Zinn as the winner of the Beveridge Prize for his book on 
LaGuardia and offered Zinn the opportunity to edit a volume on 
the New Deal for a series on American Heritage he and Alfred 
Young were putting together for Bobbs Merrill Company. Since 

the book was commissioned rather than his 

j PRESIDENT own idea, he considered it of minor impor- 

llN&S VOEREr 1 tance. h was an editing job, primarily, as 

iNG So °PP ose d to a writing project, though Zinn 

^ writc t ^ le introductory essay. 

-\ / i— — ^ His assessment of the New Deal was essen- 

tially that it had not gone far enough. It was 
a step in the right direction, an attempt 
to deal with some of the in 
equities that were making life 
in America increasingly un 
bearable for ever large 
numbers of people. Even 
the rich were disadvan 
taged by the crumbling 
of social systems 

*! •§ 


7 ^ 71*. %. 

w - iji. ’I 

into a general malaise in which the economic system was barely 
functioning. The ambitious reforms of Roosevelt created a new 
environment, and made great strides toward fixing what was 
wrong with the system. 

Zinn said the “New Deal’s accomplishments were enough to give 
many Americans the feeling they were going through a revolu- 
tion.” And though the administration “successfully evaded any 
one of a number of totalitarian abysses into which they might 
have fallen” — and “left a glow of enthusiasm, even adoration, in 
the nation at large ... when it was over, the fundamental prob- 
lem remained — and still remains — unsolved: how to bring the 
blessings of immense natural wealth and staggering productive 
potential to every person in the land.” 

By 1939, as war took attention from reform, America fell back 
into its previous patterns. “The nation was back to its normal 
state, a permanent army of unemployed; twenty or thirty million 
poverty-ridden people effectively blocked from public view by a 
huge, prosperous, and fervently consuming middle class; a 
tremendously efficient and wasteful productive apparatus.” It 
was efficient because it could produce a great deal of stuff and 
wasteful because it produced not what was needed 
but what could make its owners richest. 

Zinn concluded that the accomplishments of the New Deal 
were to “refurbish middle class America, which had taken a 
dizzying fall in the depression, to restore jobs to half the job- 
less, and to give just enough to the lowest classes (a layer of 
public housing, a minimum of social security) to create an aura 
of good will.” 

Though he admits it was a harsh judgment on the New Deal, Zinn 
said any historian is implicitly commenting on the present in his 
discussion of the past. Zinn assembled a body of excerpts of writ- 
ing of the main creators the New Deal, including Thurman 
Arnold, Henry Wallace, David Lilienthal, Harold Ickes, John May- 
nard Keynes, and Franklin D. Roosevelt. 

Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal was published in 1967, 

and was, according to Zinn, the first book to advocate with- 
drawal from Vietnam. The book developed out of a series of anti- 
war articles, beginning in 1966 with “Vietnam: Means and 
Ends,” and “Negroes and Vietnam.” After working in the civil 
rights movement and seeing how much the government resisted 
giving even the most minimal rights to black people in America, 
Zinn found it very hard to swallow the contention that the U.S. 
was dropping bombs on Vietnam for the cause of liberty and 
democracy. He began to break down the feeble logic of the case 
the government used to justify the war by showing that if the 
government just gave Vietnam the twenty billion dollars a year 
it was spending to bomb and strafe it, it would provide five thou- 
sand dollars each for every family in Vietnam, families whose 
yearly income was about seven hundred dollars. The monthly 
cost of the war was more than the yearly budget of Johnson s 
anti-poverty program. The war in Vietnam was based on the fal- 
lacy that anything was better than Communism, even a dicta- 
torship of wealthy elite over impoverished masses, which is what 
the U.S. government supported in South Vietnam, as well as in 
many other third world countries. 




One by one 
Zinn set up the 
justifications for 
the war in Viet- 
nam and knocked 
them down: the idea 
that it was a battle be- 
tween Communism and 
Freedom; the belief that if Vietnam fell to 
Communism, the rest of the countries of the world 
would all fall like dominoes stacked in a line; the idea 
that the U.S. was fighting an outside aggressor in Viet- 
nam. The war was discussed in terms of winning, he said, 
while the real question was whether we had any moral 
grounds for being there. What was defined as victory re- 
ally meant keeping a brutal oligarchy in power. 

The book ends with a speech written for President 
Johnson to give as he pulls out of Viet- 
nam. It was a fantasy never to be- 
come real, but Zinn did receive 
letters from some politicians, 
including Senator Edward 
Kennedy, who said only that 
the book was “very interest- 
ing” and Massachusetts’ 
African American Republican 
Senator Edward Brook, who 
told Zinn he had “great 
respect” for the work. 

Artists in Times of War, 

published in 2003, is a small 
book about how artists can 
direct their work in the strug- 
gle against war and injustice. 

Artists are not only creators of 
new things that transcend the 
conventional boundaries of so- 
ciety, Zinn says; they are also 
human beings who live in the 
world, and therefore their art 
can be used to help to elevate 
society, to make a difference, 
and to help alleviate suffering. 

Marx in Soho: A Play on History, 

written in 1999, is a play by Howard 
Zinn, a one-man show that introduces its au- 
dience to Marx, his wife Jenny, his children, and the 
anarchist Mikhail Bakunin. It’s an engaging introduction to 
Marx’s ideas and analysis of social evolution and how vibrant 
his ideas remain in the twenty-first century. 

Bibliography: Zinn's Writings 

Artists in Times of War (2003) ISBN 1-58322-602-8 

The Cold War & the University: Toward an Intellectual History 
of the Postwar Years (Noam Chomsky (Editor) Authors: Ira 
KatzneIson[8], R. C. Lewontin, David Montgomery, Laura Nader, 
Richard Ohmann[9], Ray Siever, Immanuel Wallerstein, Howard 
Zinn (1997) ISBN 1-56584-005-4 

Declarations of Independence: Cross-Examining American 
Ideology (1991) ISBN 0-06-092108-0 [10] 

Disobedience and Democracy: Nine Fallacies on Law and 
Order (1968, re-issued 2002) ISBN 0-89608-675-5 

Emma: A Play in Two Acts About Emma Goldman , American 
Anarchist (2002) ISBN 0-89608-664-X 

Failure to Quit: Reflections of an Optimistic Historian 
(1993) ISBN 0-89608-676-3 

The Future of History: Interviews With David Barsamian 
(1999) ISBN 1-56751-157-0 

Hiroshima: Breaking the Silence (pamphlet, 1995) ISBN 

Howard Zinn on Democratic Education Donaldo Macedo, 
Editor (2004) ISBN 1-59451-054-7 

Howard Zinn on History (2000) ISBN 1-58322-048-8 

Howard Zinn on War (2000) ISBN 1-58322-049-6 

Justice? Eyewitness Accounts (1977) ISBN 0-8070-4479-2 

Justice in Everyday Life: The Way It Really Works (Editor) 
(1974) ISBN 0-89608-677-1 

LaGuardia in Congress (1959) ISBN 0-8371-6434-6, ISBN 

0- 393-00488-0 

La Otra Historia De Los Estados Unidos (2000) ISBN 

1- 58322-054-2 

Marx in Soho: A Play on History (1999) ISBN 0-89608-593-7 


New Deal Thought (Editor) (1965) ISBN 0-87220-685-8 

Original Zinn: Conversations on History and Politics (2006) 
Howard Zinn and David Barsamian ISBN 0-06084-425-6 

Passionate Declarations: Essays on War and Justice (2003) 
ISBN 0-06-055767-2 

The Pentagon Papers Senator Gravel Edition. Vol. Five. 
Critical Essays. Boston. Beacon Press, 1972. 341p. plus 
72p. of Index to Vol. I-IV of the Papers, Noam Chomsky, 
Howard Zinn, editors 

A People’s History of American Empire (2008) by Howard 
Zinn, Mike Konopacki and Paul Buhle ISBN 0-80508-744-3 

A People’s History of the Civil War: Struggles for the 
Meaning of Freedom by David Williams, Howard Zinn (Series 
Editor) (2005) ISBN 1-59558-018-2 

A People’s History of the United States: 1492 - Present 
(1980), revised (1995)(1998)(1999)(2003) ISBN 0-06-052837-0 

A People’s History of the United States: Teaching Edition 
Abridged (2003 updated) ISBN 1-56584-826-8 

A People’s History of the United States: The Civil War to 
the Present Kathy Emery Ellen Reeves Howard Zinn (2003 
teaching edition) ISBN 1-56584-725-3 

A People’s History of the United States: The Wall Charts by 
Howard Zinn and George Kirschner (1995) ISBN 

The People Speak: American Voices, Some Famous , Some 
Little Known (2004) ISBN 0-06-057826-2 

Playbook by Maxine Klein, Lydia Sargent and Howard Zinn 
(1986) ISBN 0-89608-309-8 

The Politics of History (1970) (2nd edition 1990) ISBN 

Postwar America: 1945 - 1971 (1973) ISBN 0-89608-678-X 


A Power Governments Cannot Suppress (2006) ISBN 

The Power of Nonviolence: Writings by Advocates of Peace 
Editor (2002) ISBN 0-8070-1407-9 

SNCC: The New Abolitionists (1964) ISBN 0-89608-679-8 

The Southern Mystique (1962) ISBN 0-89608-680-1 

Terrorism and War (2002) ISBN 1-58322-493-9 (interviews, 
Anthony Amove (Ed.)) 

Three Strikes: Miners , Musicians , Salesgirls, and the Fighting 
Spirit of Labor’s Last Century (Dana Frank, Robin Kelley, and 
Howard Zinn) (2002) ISBN 0-8070-5013-X 

The Twentieth Century: A People’s History (2003) ISBN 0- 

Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal (1967) ISBN 0-89608-681-X 

Voices of a People’s History of the United States (with An- 
thony Amove, 2004) ISBN 1-58322-647-8 

You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A Personal His- 
tory of Our Times (1994) ISBN 0-8070-7127-7 

A Young People’s History of the United States, adapted from 
the original text by Rebecca Stefoff; illustrated and updated 
through 2006, with new introduction and afterward by Howard 
Zinn; two volumes, Seven Stories Press, New York, 2007. 

Vol. 1: Columbus to the Spanish-American War. ISBN 

Vol. 2: Class Struggle to the War on Terror. ISBN 

The Zinn Reader: Writings on Disobedience and Democracy 

(1997) ISBN 1-888363-54-1 



David Cogswell is a writer based in Hoboken, N. J. He has writ- 
ten thousands of articles on business, travel, politics, and the 
arts for various print and online publications, including Online 
Journal, Democratic Underground, Bushwatch, Indy- 
media. org,, Travel Weekly, the Hudson Current 
and the Jersey Journal. He’s the author of Existentialism For 
Beginners and Chomsky For Beginners, and has contributed 
pieces to a number of political books, including Fortunate Son: 
The Making of an American President, by J.H. Hatfield; Am- 
bushed: The Hidden History of the Bush Family by Toby 
Rogers; and America’s Autopsy Report, by John Kaminski. 

Joe Lee is an illustrator, cartoonist, writer and clown. A gradu- 
ate of Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey’s Clown College, 
he worked for many years as a circus clown. He is also the il- 
lustrator for many other For Beginners books including: Dada 
and Surrealism For Beginners, Postmodernism For Begin- 
ners, Deconstruction For Beginners, and Existentialism For 
Beginners. Joe lives with his wife, Mary Bess, three cats, and 
two dogs (Toby and Jack). 

































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E G 1 N N 

E R S 

Zinn For Beginners describes the life and work of the most vital historian of 
our time. Howard Zlnn led a revolution In the writing ol history by telling the 
story not from the standpoint of conquerors and rulers, but from the side of 
the ordinary people who always bear the brunt of the ambitions ol tyrants. 

Zinn tells the story of Columbus' discovery of America horn the standpoint of the 
native people whose hands Columbus cut off to terrorize them into giving him 
gold. He tells the story of the Civil War not from the point of view of the great 
generals who directed the slaughter, but from that of the slaves and from the 
ordinary people who gave up their lives in the struggle. He tells ol the Spanish- 
American War from the point of view of Mark Twain, who wrote, "When the 
smoke was over, the dead buried, and the cost of the war come back to the 
people ... it suddenly dawned on us that the cause of the Spanish-American 
war was the price of sugar . . . that the lives, blood, and money of the American 
people were used to protect the interest of the American capitalists" 

Howard Zlnn's fresh look at history has earned him a devoted following. Zinn 
For Beginners chronicles the origins, evolution, and philosophies of the 
revolutionary historian, Howard Zinn. 

David Cogswell Is the author ol Chomsky For Beginners, and has also written 
thousands of articles on business, travel, politics, and the arts for various print 
and online publications. Including Democratic Underground, Bushwatch 
Prison Planet,, Travel Weekly, the Hudson Current 
and the Jersey Journal. 

A For Be o inner- ui 



US $14.99 /SI 8.95 CAN